I love looking through the aisles of my local toy and bookstores. There are so many treasures in these stores and can have a tremendous amount of therapeutic value if you look at them closely enough. As an occupational therapist, I am always looking at how toys and other products can be used to help children reach their fullest potential. Everything listed below will help your children develop fine motor, visual motor, visual perceptual, graphomotor and executive functioning skills. Additionally, many they will encourage imagination and creativity skills which leads to increased confidence and self-esteem.
The Small Stuff-Stocking Stuffers and Such
Below, I share some of my favorite little gifts...little treasures that will bring joy to your children. I tried to include things that I thought parents would enjoy playing with with their kids as well. There is a whole lot of old school toys mixed in with some of the current fads. The one thing they all have in common is that they will help develop essential skills without your kids really knowing it.
Moulin Roty Town and Country Transfers-I love when I find something that brings me back to my own childhood and this is definitely one of those things that sends me back in time. The Town and Country Transfers comes with over 30 pictures that you can put into the provided scene or put on your own blank canvas (they will show up on either black or white paper). This is a great and affordable craft that will not only encourage creativity and imagination, it also works on improving fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.
Slime Suckers-these were one of my greatest finds of the year. Kids can work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills while grossing out family and friends. They simply squeeze the sucker and put into the slime and release the sucker and watch the slime disappear. To get the slime out, they squeeze it again.
Zoo Sticks-these are always a favorite for kids. They can use the chopsticks to eat or to pick up small objects. I always have a few pairs with me at home and at work. There are all kinds of different ones to choose from including farm animals, sea creatures and vehicles. Kids can work on improving grasp strength, manipulation skills and visual motor/perceptual skills while using them.
Aaron's Thinking Putty- you can never go wrong with Aaron's Thinking Putty. There are a ton of different ones to choose from. I love their holiday themed options: the Mini Holiday Collection and the Gelt Trio come in small tins making it great for throwing into a bag to entertain your kids when you are on the run. Kids love when I hide little objects in the putty. Great for working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills.
Sidewalk Chalk Spray-chalk is always a great gift for kids of all ages. Living in Brooklyn, you see some amazing chalk art on the sidewalks. Some of my favorite times with my own daughter are warm spring and summer nights out on our sidewalk drawing with chalk. This set of chalk spray comes with 4 colors; add some water, shake and let your kids start creating. You can pair this gift with these chalk stencils. This is not only great for encouraging imagination and creativity but also works on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor and perceptual activities.
**while we like to keep our sidewalk art up for as long as Mother Nature allows, some don't. The Sidewalk Chalk Spray easily rinses away with a hose or a rain shower.
Rainbow Twirler-sometimes, the simplest of toys can bring more joy than those that cost a lot. This simple toy will keep kids entertained for hours and costs almost nothing. Kids spin the toy and create all kinds of rainbow shapes. It's a great way to work on improving hand-eye coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.
Memory Maze-I couldn't love this hand-held Simon Says game more! Just like the original Simon Says, kids have to to follow the light pattern. If you get all the way to 15 steps, you win. This is great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, memory skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and memory. Kids (and their grownups) of all ages will love this and most likely become obsessed with this game.
Mini Bop-It-who doesn't love Bop-It? This is one of those games that I loved as a kid and so happy that it's still around. This mini version of the game will be sure to keep your kids entertained while also working on improving hand-eye coordination, sequencing, focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills. If you have a child who has difficulty with following directions or may have auditory processing delays, this is a great toy for them.
Squiggle Wiggle Writer Pen-kids will love to write and draw with this vibrating pen. As they write and draw, the vibrating pens turns their words and pictures into squiggly ones. Each pen comes with 4 different colored inks that you can swap out. Fun way to encourage kids to draw and write.
Super Duper Scented Gel Pens-I've spent a lot of time looking for the perfect gel pens and I have found them in this set by OOLY. This set contains 24 mini gel pens in a durable case. There are 12 glitter, 6 neon and 6 pastel pens and each has its own scent which is always fun for kids. These are the brightest and most vibrant gel pens I have found. The smaller size of the pen helps to encourage a proper grasp when holding it. Kids will want to practice writing, draw or color if they have these pens!
Wikki Stix-I first discovered Wikki Stix when at a restaurant with kids years ago. Instead of the usual crayons and activity menu, this place gave out little packs of Wikki Stix to entertain the kids. At first I was confused and wondered how it would possibly keep them quiet for an entire meal, but then I was fighting with the kids to play with them and I quickly understood. For those of you not in the know, Wikki Stix are basically different colored wax covered yarn that can be bent into different shapes. They can be used for play and for learning. Kids can practice making different shapes, letters or numbers by bending the Wikki Stix. For younger kids, you can have them put the Wikki Stix on printed out shapes, letters or numbers and for younger kids you can provide them with a blank piece of paper and have them create them without a visual cue. They are incredibly durable and can't be ripped or torn (you can cut them into smaller pieces if you need to). Wikki Stix are great for working on improving fine motor skills, such as improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages bilateral coordination skills.
Build Bonanza Lego Tape-I know for a fact that I'm not alone in having a kid who is obsessed with Legos. While she loves building sets, she is also happy making her own creations. We are now in love with our rolls of Lego compatible tape that can make any surface a place to create with Legos and other kinds of building blocks. It's flexible, bendable and can be put on curved and corner surfaces. It can be cut to whatever shape you want....I like the idea of writing your kids name with them. Great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination and encourages creativity and imagination.
Hogwild Poppers-finding the right toy to work on hand strengthening can be tricky because kids who are weak are very good at avoiding those kinds of activities. When it comes to doing it at home, it really has to be motivating and seem like a toy and not a therapy activity. The Hog Wild Popper toys are perfect for this and definitely are more fun than work. My unicorn obsessed daughter has been gifted more of these than I can count and loves them. There are TONS of poppers to choose from ranging from animals to team mascots and all are just under $10. The balls are foam so there is little risk for them hurting someone else or breaking anything in your house.
In addition to hand strengthening, they are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, hand eye coordination, motor planning and focus and attentional skills. You can also combine working on improving visual and gross motor skills by setting up a target that kids aim towards and then having them wheelbarrow walk, run or do some kind of animal crawl to retrieve the ball.
Touch and Feel Forest Friends Puzzles -finding interlocking puzzles for younger kids can be challenging but this set by Mudpuppy is a great one. It comes with 4 3-piece interlocking puzzles and each one has a different textured piece that encourages sensory exploration. The puzzles are made from durable materials that are perfect for those rough toddlers! These are great for improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and improves problem solving, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Puzzle Trio Stories-I love these mini puzzles from one of my favorite toy companies, Djeco. This set contains 8 3-piece puzzles that when put together tell a story. They are great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills. If you have a child who has speech and language delays, they are a fun way to work on sequencing and storytelling skills. You can make these more portable by throwing them in a ziploc bag.
Plus-Plus Tubes-one of my favorite open-ended manipulative toys out there. They have a large selection of tubes which come with about 70 pieces and instructions for something you can make. The tubes are great for throwing in a bag and taking on the go to keep your kids entertained while at a restaurant, in waiting rooms, etc.. I especially love their holiday themed tubes available right now like snowflakes, an elf and a Christmas Tree! They are great for improving fine motor skills such as grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages creativity and imagination.
Super Sonic Gyro Disc-I was so excited when I came across this toy in a little bookstore while on vacation this summer. I remember playing with something similar to the gyro disc as a child and thought it would be a perfect addition to my occupational therapy tool box and a great toy for parents to have at home.
This simple and inexpensive toy (I picked mine up for under $5) is great for working on improving bilateral coordination skills, increasing upper extremity strength, motor planning and organizational skills. Kids are motivated by the spinning noise and how the LED lights light up once they get it going. This can be tricky for the kids to get started so I sometimes offer hand-over-hand assistance until they feel like they have the hang of it. For older kids, I add a challenge by having them do this activity while balancing on a balance board or a bosu ball.
Clip-On Doodle Pro-a great gift to keep your little ones entertained while on the go. The Clip-On Doodle Pro is a magnetic drawing board that you can throw into a bag, attach to your child's backpack or keep in the car. Encourages creativity and imagination while also working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills.
Sticker Puzzles-these make a great gift for kids of all ages. These sticker puzzles by Lee Publications come in a variety of sizes and feature some of your children's favorite characters from movies and television shows. They simply find the matching number on the grid; as they add the stickers, a picture comes to life. Great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and works on increasing grasping and manipulation skills.
Mini Coloring Rolls-do you have a kid who loves to color? Mudpuppy's Mini Coloring Rolls are perfect for them then. They will enjoy 3 feet of coloring (there are a bunch of different ones to choose from based on your kid's interests) at home or on the go. Each set comes with a box that you can use as storage and keeping the picture from getting torn or wrinkled when not being colored. It also includes a few crayons but I always make sure to have a little baggie of gel pens or markers in my bag for my daughter. This is a fun way to keep your kids entertained but will also work on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Mini Pocket Pal Journals-in addition to always having markers or gel pens with me, I ALWAYS have some kind of notebook or drawing pad for my daughter to draw in when we are out and about (especially when we are going out to eat). She loves to draw, have us throw spelling words at her or to just write her own stories while we are sitting at the table. For under $10 you can give your kid the gift of imagination and creativity. For under $10, your kid can get a set of 8 books with some of their favorite creatures on the cover. These are great for keeping your kids engaged during down time, encourage creativity and imagination, work on improving graphomotor skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and task management.
Gifts for the Little Ones
I love finding gifts for the little kids in my life that they can grow with...things that will serve different purposes at different points in their lives. In this portion of my 2017 Holiday Gift Guide, I share some of my favorite toys, games and products that are suitable for children 4 years and younger. Many of the suggestions are ones that provide children with the opportunity to expand their imagination and creativity skills. They provide them with opportunities for open-ended play. Open-ended play materials are those that don't have a pre-determined way of playing with them. This encourages creativity, problem solving, making choices and increases imagination in children. Providing younger children with these open-ended play opportunities will make your children develop critical thinking and make them more independent as they get older. Below, I share some of my favorite toys to gift and to recommend for the younger children in your life.
Ditto Mirrored Building Blocks-one of the best investments one can make for a baby/toddler is a great set of building blocks. This is something that kids will play with at all ages and work on different developmental skills across ages. The Ditto Blocks are not your typical building block; these blocks have mirrors built into them. You can shine bright lights in your tower, create patterns with objects reflected inside or find their faces reflected in them. The Ditto block are not only beautiful to look at, they are good for encouraging kids to be creative and use their imagination. They are also great for working on bilateral coordination, improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improving spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.
Squigz and Pipsquigz-one of my favorite manipulative toys for younger kids. These colorful toys are basically suction cups that stick together. Simply apply pressure and they either stick together or can stick on different surfaces like a mirror or a tabletop. They are waterproof and can be used in the bathtub or shower; since they are no-porous, the won't get moldy and can be cleaned easier. They are flexible manipulative toys that can be used to build and create a variety of structures. One of my favorite things about Squigz is the super fun popping noise they make when you pull them apart! Squigz are great for working on improving fine motor skills such as improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, encourages bilateral coordination skills and can improve hand-eye coordination. If used on a mirror or window, you can work on increasing upper extremity strength. This open-ended manipulative toys are perfect for encouraging creativity and imagination skills.
Tobbly Wobbly-this is another favorite of the kids I work with. Using reusable stickers and different
Magic Painting World Coloring Sets-years ago, I had found these reusable coloring pages by Aquadoodle and I loved them, especially for my younger kids who weren't quite ready for coloring and holding/manipulating coloring instruments. I was in one of my favorite little stores in Park Slope, Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store, when I discovered the Magic Painting coloring sets by Tiger Tribe. Using a paintbrush that you fill with water, kids can "color in" some magical scenes. Each set contains 4 coloring boards and a paintbrush for the kids to use to make the pictures come to life. On the back of each picture there are things for the kids to find hidden in each picture. Great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and can improve focus and attention. This is an awesome thing for traveling or to keep in your bag for keeping kids occupied while in waiting rooms.
Peg Friends Stacking Farm/Peg Friends Around the Town-pegboards seem to be the staple of all toddler toy collections and are definitely a part of any therapeutic gym/preschool classroom. They are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and motor planning and organizational skills. Kids can also work on color recognition and sorting and matching colors when using them. When I saw these pegboard sets by Learning Resources, I became obsessed! These easy-to-hold pegs are double-sided characters/animals that kids push together and pull apart. Once they are put together, kids find the place on the pegboard where they belong (for example, the pig goes in the mud, the doctor goes in the hospital, etc.). You can even encourage your kids to be as silly as they want to and have them mix and match the animals/people. In addition to working on the aforementioned skills, kids can improve their language, creativity and expand their imagination.
Grippies Builders-another great open-ended building toy especially designed for little hands. This 30-piece set comes with brightly colored magnetic pieces that kids can play with to build and create. What I like about these is that each piece is covered with a soft plastic with different textures for kids to explore. This building toy is great for working on improving bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, spatial awareness and grasping and manipulation skills. Since there is no right way to play with these, they are great for encouraging a child to be creative and use their imagination at a very young age.
Props In A Bag/Props In A Box-pretend play is a critical part of a
toddler's development. Through pretend play children gain a better understanding of social emotional roles in life. Pretend play also helps develop cooperative play skills with siblings/peers, improves imagination and creativity, improves problem solving and can work on improving fine motor skills. The Props in a Bag and Props in a Box sets are a great gift for your little ones and come with all that you need to help your children's imaginations soar. The Props in a Box sets (The Dino & The Pirate, The Princess & the Chef, The Fisherman & the Astronaut and The Doctor & the Farmer)comes with a variety of props and costumes for 2 characters, a large backdrop and allows you to download the Props in a Box Movie Maker App that allows your child to add special effects to movies that you can create with them. The Props in a Bag sets (The Builder, The Camper, The Magician and The Superhero) comes with props and costumes for one, a backdrop and access to the Props in a Box Movie Maker App.
Car Pretend Play Stickers/Kitchen Pretend Play Stickers-one of the things we all get lots of during the holiday season are cardboard boxes. As a toddler...and still to some point today...my daughter loved building things with the cardboard boxes. She and my husband would spend hours building and playing in these structures. When I saw these Pretend Play Stickers by Eeboo I knew they had to make my gift guide this year. Each set of the stickers comes with four giant sheets of reusable stickers to make a kitchen or car out of a cardboard box. Kids will work on improving their creative and imagination skills while having fun! At the same time, kids can work on improving fine motor and grasping skills, bilateral coordination (as they take the stickers off the sheets) and visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Ooly Mumbo Jumbo Markers-I am not one of those people who believes that you should wait to let kids experiment with writing instruments. One of my daughter's greatest gifts for her first Christmas was an easel. We had it for years and years and it got more use than just about any toy. At that time, it was more difficult to find markers for her small hands. When I discovered the Mumbo Jumbo markers, I was super excited and wished they had been around when Quinn was little. I've been using them with all of my little friends at the gym and recommending them to anyone who will listen to me. This set of 16 markers are short and have a thicker barrel making it easier for little hands to hold. Because of that thicker barrel, it helps to encourage an appropriate grasp when using them.
Monkey Around-finding board games that are good for your little ones can be challenging. Peaceable Kingdom has a bunch of great family games and I love this one for toddlers because it gets them up and moving. Monkey Around has 40 different cards that have all players do movements together. Some of the movements kids are asked to do are giving high fives, balancing on one foot and marching. This is a great game to work on improving gross motor skills, motor planning, coordination and organizational skills. It also builds confidence and self-esteem as your little ones master the various challenges on the cards.
Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game-this game by Educational Insights was one of my daughter's first board games and she never tired of it. It is also a favorite of many of the kids I work with and the kids who attend The Meeting House. The point of the game is to feed your hungry forest friends acorns; the first player to fill their log with all the colored acorns is the winner. One of my favorite parts of the game is that kids pick up the acorns using chopsticks so they can work on improving fine motor skills while learning about colors. Kids can also work on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, focus and attention and strategic thinking. Sneaky Snacky Squirrel is a perfect family game that helps teach your young kids about turn-taking and other social skills related to game playing.
Doodle-Pro Slim Magnetic Drawing Board-this is a great toy to introduce kids to drawing and pre-writing. This drawing board is great because it is slim and lightweight making it easy to take on the go. It comes with a stylus attached so you don't have to worry about your child losing it. There are also 4 different shape stamps that can add details to your child's drawing. I love that kids can draw over and over again without wasting any paper. In addition to working on graphomotor skills, it is also great for working on improving grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and encourages bilateral coordination and crossing midline.
Poke-A-Dot Books-I love these interactive books but more importantly, the kids love them more! This is a fun way to teach kids how to count. Each page has little raised buttons that go along with the story (for example, the 10 little monkeys have a button to pop on their belly). These books are really durable and can handle the wear and tear of a rough toddler. There are a bunch to choose from and can introduce your children to colors, shapes, animals and the letters of the alphabet.
Great for working on fine motor skills and increasing strength in those tiny muscles in the hand, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and focus and attention. They are also great for improving language skills and focus and attention.
Touch and Feel Forest Friends Puzzles -finding interlocking puzzles for younger kids can be challenging but this set by Mudpuppy is a great one. It comes with 4 3-piece interlocking puzzles and each one has a different textured piece that encourages sensory exploration. The puzzles are made from durable materials that are perfect for those rough toddlers! These are great for improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and improves problem solving, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Snap 'N Learn Learning Cows-Learning Resources is my go-to place for any math manipulative toys. We have a bunch of different ones at my gym and the kids love them all, especially the Snap 'N Learn Number Turtles. I am a particular fan of this cow set for the little ones. It comes with 10 cows (20 pieces all together) with a number on one side and dots on the other side. Kids have to match not only the numbers, but the colors. This is a great activity to work on improving grasp and upper extremity strength, bilateral coordination, visual spatial, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and hand-eye coordination.
Wimzle-this is a great cause and effect toy for your babies. It is BPA free so you don't have to worry about them using it as a teether! This sensory/tactile toy introduces young children to a variety of textures and sensations. Babies can pull, twist and squeeze the different spheres which is great for encouraging the development of grasping and manipulation skills. Each sphere of the Wimzle has a different texture for them to explore. In addition to being great for the aforementioned skills, it also works on developing hand-eye coordination, motor planning and bilateral coordination.
After The Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Salent
We all know about Humpty Dumpty but do we know about what happened after he was finally put back together? This is the story about Humpty Dumpty overcoming his fear of heights after taking that great big fall and building up the courage to climb the wall again. So many of the kids I work with have giant fears and those fears may get in the way of them trying new things or doing things that they were once comfortable doing. As they follow Humpty Dumpty through the story, they learn that sometimes it's not easy and we still may be a bit scared, but if we are brave and show courage, we end up overcoming our fears and doing great things.
Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtentheld
In this children's book the main theme is about bullying and being a good friend. Stick and Stone are both feeling alone and sad until Stick comes upon Stone being picked on by a pine cone. They become fast friends and spend all of their time together until Stick is blown away during a storm. Stone won't stop searching for his best friend and they are eventually reunited.
Fair Is Fair by Sonny Varela and Peter Mahr
What parent or teacher hasn't heard the words "It's not fair!". Whether it be about not getting a special treat for dessert or going to bed earlier than their older sibling, kids are always worried about things not being fair and even. In this book, three animals in the zoo (elephant, giraffe and a bunny) don't understand or think it's fair that one animal gets more than the other two. Kids learn about fairness and just because someone may get something you want or more of something, it doesn't mean that you aren't equally loved.
The Color Monster by Anna Llenas
Teaching children about emotions and feelings is an important lesson that helps them not only understand their own feelings, but gives them perspective about other people and how they might be feeling. The Color Monster is a beautifully illustrated popup book that helps children learn about emotions by matching it with a color. Kids love this interactive book and it is a great way for parents and younger children to talk about feelings and what they can do when they are feeling certain ways.
Be A Friend by Salina Yoon
This is one of my favorite and most recommended books, especially for children who feel different. Dennis is an ordinary little boy who likes to express himself through miming. He doesn't use his words to try and connect with his peers and because of that, he feels alone. That is until he meets a little girl named Joy who accepts him for who he is and a beautiful friendship develops because of her willingness to be open-minded. As more children are being integrated into mainstream classrooms, this book is a must for parents and classrooms to help children develop an open mind for children who are different than them and to not be scared of them.
We Are All Wonders by R.J. Palacio
One of my all time favorite books was the young adult novel Wonder so I was thrilled when I discovered that they released a picture book for younger children. This book is a wonderful way to introduce kids to the importance of empathy and kindness. We Are All Wonders is old from the perspective of Auggie, a young boy who was born with a variety of facial differences that has required countless surgeries which has kept him out of school. He talks about how even though he looks different than other children, he does ordinary things and is much more like his peers than they think and how he wants them to see him for who he is and not how he looks.
The Smallest Girl in the Grade by Justin Roberts
In this book, the theme is about speaking up and making yourself heard. Sally is the littlest girl in her whole class and nobody seems to notice her. The thing is is that she notices everything, especially the kids who are bullying and getting bullied. One day, Sally decides she just can't take watching the mean kids any more and says something and makes herself heard by standing up to the bullies in her school. We all know a kid (or many!) who need to be encouraged to use their voice and either stick up for themselves or for others. This book is an important read, especially for kids who need to learn about the importance of speaking up and making themselves heard, even when they don't think anyone will listen to them.
Pete The Cat: I love My White Shoes by James Dean
One of the biggest lessons we can teach our children is how to differentiate between little and big problems. For most kids, when a something happens to them, it is the biggest problem that they will ever face. Pete the Cat shows us how to make the best out of a problem by not getting upset and just moving on. Many of the Pete the Cat books teach a similar lesson and because of the sing-song way the book is written, the kids can really get into reading with you. In addition to working on size of the problems, Pete the Cat books are great for teaching kids about the importance of being a flexible thinker, especially when things don't go the way you want them to.
The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
Rude Cakes by Rowboat Watkins
One of the things that many parents, teachers and caregivers have to deal with is a child who is not always polite. In this book, kids can begin to learn about being polite and the importance of being kind to others with a tremendous amount of humor. Rude cakes never say please or thank you, are known to take things that don't belong to them without asking. He is known to be inconsiderate and ungrateful, bullies other sweets and disrespects his parents. That is until he is taken to another land where Giant Cyclopses (who are silly but very polite) end up using rude cakes as a hat where he learns the importance of being kind and patient and is able to change his ways when he returns home.
Let's Get Along Books-this is a series I found that works on more specific social difficulties. These short and engaging books focus on raising awareness for positive behaviors. In this box set, kids will be introduced to a handful of students from Miss Clayton's classroom. The illustrations are fun and the stories are easy for preschoolers (these are really targeted towards younger children/preschool age) to follow. These are great books for any classroom setting as the issues that they focus on (being kind, sharing, working together and calming down) are things that come up all the time for children in all classrooms and schools!
When looking for games, I try and look for a few things. The most important thing is that they are motivating games that the kids will enjoy playing. I also try and find games that will help meet occupational therapy goals, such as improving fine motor or visual motor/perceptual skills. I love to find games that can be adapted for children of different ages and skill sets. This year, I have included a bunch of collaborative games....games that kids work as a team in order to accomplish a mission. I had such fun putting this list together. Check out my favorite games below!
Bop It-another one of my favorite games from growing up and continues to be one of my favorite games as an adult. Santa will definitely be putting this under the tree for my girl this year. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, Bop It is an action packed game that pairs listening to verbal prompts and an action (Bop It, Twist It or Pull It and seven new ones). Kids can play by themselves or with friends/siblings so it can be a motivating way to work on improving social skills. This game is great for working on executive functioning skills such as following directions and sequencing, improves auditory processing skills, focus, attention and organizational skills. Additionally, it is a fun way to work on improving hand-eye coordination.
Burger Mania-because I am a total OT nerd, I am a complete sucker for any game that comes with a pair of chopsticks or tweezers. I was in Toys "R" Us the other night and stumbled upon Burger Mania and knew it had to be part of game collection at work. It's only been a couple of days but every single one of the kids I worked with after and my own daughter can't get enough of this game. The game comes with a working conveyer belt, the ingredients needed to make burgers, tiny plates, tweezers and cards with pictures of different kinds of burgers that need to be made. Burgers are made by grabbing the ingredients with tweezers!! Whoever makes the most burgers is the winner. There are 3-different speed levels so that the conveyer belt moves faster to make it more challenging as the kids master the game. Great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on improving executive functioning skills like focus, attention, organization and motor planning.
*one of the things I have done to make it easier for some of my younger kids is to have them just make burgers in the order in which you put the ingredients in their storage spots. They are still working on all of the aforementioned goals, but you are taking away the difficulty of following the game cards.
What Letter Do I Start With-I know a game is good when my daughter doesn't want me to take it to work with me. I was surprised because she usually doesn't feel that way about educational games! This game is perfect for emerging readers but will entertain older children as well. The point of the game is simple: be the first to find an object on the board that starts with the letter on the card flipped over. Kids have to scan the board, find a matching picture and place their color token on the picture. The first person to get rid of all 10 of their tokens is the winner. This is a fast-paced game that works on letter recognition, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, improves fine motor skills and helps with improving focus, attention and organizational skills.
*whenever possible, I like to work on other goals when playing games with the kids. When playing What Letter Do I Start With with some of my older kids, I will practice handwriting by having them write the name of the object that they found.
Perfection-I've had this game in my closet since I began working as an OT approximately a million years ago ;) and was really bummed when they stopped making the 25-piece game and replaced it with a smaller 9-shape game. Maybe it was all my complaining, but you can now find the original 25-piece game in stores again and I couldn't be more happy. For those of you who don't know the game, Perfection is a beat the clock game where you try and match all the shapes before the timer goes off and the board pops up and the shapes go flying. It's a great game for working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improves fine motor skills such as grasping and in-hand manipulation skills and works on improving focus, attention and organizational skills.
*some of the adaptations I make while playing the game is to hide the pieces in putty and have the kids find them; this works on increasing grasp strength. For some of my kids, the idea of a timer stresses them out so I will start it after they put a certain number of pieces in.
Tumbling Monkeys-this is another game that continues to make my list year after year because it continues to be a hit with my kids at work. This game is similar to Kerplunk, but instead of marbles, there are monkeys. Once you put the tree together (a great fine motor activity!), kids roll the dice and pull out the stick of the same color and see what happens. While the rules of the game say that the winner is the person with the fewest monkeys I play so they have to rescue as many of them as possible. This is particularly helpful with the younger kids I work with who don't have the clinical reasoning and understanding quite yet. In addition to being great for working on developing grasping skills, it also works on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and can work on improving executive functioning skills like focus, attention, organization and planning skills.
*one way I adapt this game is having the kids use Zoo Sticks to pull the sticks out of the game instead of their fingers. It's a nice way to sneak in some hand strengthening in while having some fun!
Getting Ready to Write Gumball Grab-this is a great game for preschoolers. Kids can practice sorting and matching skills while building up the strength in their hands using the special grabbers (you know how I feel about games that come with any kind of tweezer/grabbers/etc!). Gumball Grab comes with a bubble gum machine, 4 game boards, different colored "gumballs", cards and grabbers. Each card has directions to either add or remove gumballs to their game board. The first person to fill their gumball machine is the winner. In addition to working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, this game is great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, motor planning and organizational skills and improved focus and attention. It also is a nice way to introduce kids to colors and numbers.
*for the really young kids, I remove the cards that have them take gumballs off of their board so they can be more successful and also helps move the game along a little quicker for those kids who have difficulty with focus and attention.
Silly Street-I love finding games that throw in some gross motor activities, especially for the younger kids I work with. I have found that adding movement to games helps improve focus, attention and organizational skills. There are so many things about this game but it starts with the game set-up: you have to put together a giant 6-piece puzzle! Kids flip over cards with different kinds of directions on them; it can be to find something on the board, do a silly gross motor activity and several other kinds of challenges. The people who created Silly Street had a goal of helping kids develop a variety of skills including social skills, communication skills, creativity, resilience and confidence. Additionally, it works on improving fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, motor planning and organizational skills and focus and attentional skills. When I used this in my social skills group, I had the kids work in groups of 2 to also work on encouraging teamwork while playing a game.
*I truly love this game but found it hard to follow the "street" on the game board. I resolved that by taking a thick black Sharpie marker and outlining the street making it easier for the kids to follow.
Animal Act-A Silly Street Character-Builder Game-it's not an unusual thing for me to buy several games by the same game makers because if one is a hit, it's pretty likely the other one will be a hit as well. Animal Act is from the makers of Silly Street (recommended above) and combines verbal and physical communication and encourages bravery and creativity while playing. Kids roll the die and draw a card and then given some kind of challenge: they may need to act, sing, mime to their audience....if the audience guesses correctly, you earn a ticket. Kids move around the gameboard collecting tickets to fill their playbill. The first player to fill their playbill is the winner. In addition to all the aforementioned goals of the game, kids can work on improving motor planning, organizational skills, problem solving and increasing overall body strength.
Dr. Seuss Thing Two and Thing One Whirly Fun Game-who doesn't love Dr. Seuss and all of his characters?? This is a great collaborative game for younger children. Kids work together to clean up a mess before their mother gets home. The game starts by launching a top into the living room. Kids take turn picking cards and following the action shown. The game ends as soon as mother reaches the last space . If all the furniture is on a spot, the players win. Great for working on hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improves fine motor and manipulation skills and improves focus and attention. I like that there are also physical challenges mixed in with the cards so kids can work on improving gross motor skills, motor planning and organizational skills.
Yeti In My Spaghetti-another one of those simple games that quickly become a favorite of mine and the kids. The game consists of a bowl, a plastic yeti and a bunch of pieces of plastic spaghetti. Place the spaghetti pieces over the bowl, put the yeti on top and start playing. The goal of the game: take a piece of spaghetti off without letting the yeti fall into the bowl. Great for working on improving grasping and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination, motor planning and organizational skills and focus and attentional skills.
*I like to throw in a dice so the kids roll the dice and then have to take however many pieces they roll. I also will have them try and remove the spaghetti pieces using kids chopsticks to work on improving grasp strength while playing.
Last Letter-another game for the older crowd (suggested age is 8 and older). In this card game, you have to come up and shout out a word from one of the picture cards that you are holding. Sounds easy, right? This is where it gets tricky....the word that you call out must start with the last letter of the word that was previously said. The first person to get rid of all of their cards wins the game.
*if you are playing this 1:1 in a therapy session, you can add a handwriting challenge to the game and have them write out the words after they should the word out.
Mole Rats In Space-for my social skills group, I like to find games for the kids to play that will not only be fun but may also encourage them to work together to win a game. Often times, the kids I work with are so competitive and not good about winning OR losing so finding collaborative games helps develop important social skills. Peaceable Kingdom has a ton of great these kinds of games to choose from. In Mole Rats In Space, kids work together to collect equipment and escape the station before you're bitten by a snake or time runs out. Kids flip over cards and have to follow the directions: they may need to move you or your teammate, move snakes around or add a new snake to the board. Avoid getting bitten by a snake and having to return to start or even worse. This game is geared towards older children (7 and older) and could be a great addition to a family game collection. Great for working on improving focus, attention and organizational skills, motor planning and working as a team to accomplish a goal.
Cauldron Quest-another collaborative game by Peaceable Kingdom. The purpose of this game is to work with your teammates to create a potion to break the spell. Find the hidden ingredients before the wizard blocks all of the paths and you all win. Great game for working on improving social skills, problem solving, organizational skills and focus/attentional skills. Additionally, kids can work on improving fine motor skills such as grasping skills and improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
*if you are using this therapeutically, you can have the players work on handwriting skills by having them write the words out as they are playing.
Arts & Crafts and Activity Books
The craft portion of my gift guide is always a big hit with my families as they are always on the lookout for things to do with their kids at home that will help with the development of skills. Many times, kids will avoid doing "work" with their parents but if you can find a fun craft set, the "work" is actually hidden and they tend to not put up a fight about it. I have found that even with my own daughter who had fine motor and grasping delays when she was younger, she was motivated by something that she could show off and use once it was completed. Below, I share some of my favorite arts and craft sets for kids of all ages. Many of these things can be thrown in a bag to keep your kids entertained and occupied while traveling, out to eat or waiting in waiting rooms.
Sticky Mosaics by Orb Factory-these continue to make my list year after year. They are not only wonderful for working towards a variety of occupational therapy goals, they are something that kids love to make and show off when they are completed. There are a ton of different kits to choose from including sets for younger children. Each set comes with a handful of cardboard pictures with numbers on them. Each number corresponds with a different colored sticker that gets placed on top of the number. Sticky Mosaics are great for working on improving grasping and manipulation skills, increases grasp strength, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and spatial awareness. Additionally, they are great for working on improving executive functioning skills like focus, attention, organizational and planning skills. The best part is that kids self-esteem and confidence soar when they finally complete the activity.
OOLY 3-D Colorables-I know something is a hit when my 7 year old daughter begs me to not take it to work with me! The 3-D Colorables are one of her favorite things to color these days and I love that the kids can play with them after they are all colored in. 3-D Colorables are these really cool inflatable paper toys that can be colored in and then blown up using a straw. There a bunch of different sets but I think my two favorites are the World Peace Dolls and the Rockin' Guitar.
Kids can work on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improves graphomotor skills and can work on improving focus, attentional and organizational skills all while encouraging them to be creative and use their imagination. Once they are completed, they are great for encouraging pretend play.
OOLY also has the best markers to color these in with. For older kids, the Perfectly Permanent Double Ended Markers are great for adding bright colors and details. For younger kids, the Stackables Stacking Markers are ideal for encouraging the smaller hands to hold a writing instrument appropriately.
Whipple Craft Creations-thanks to one of my co-workers, I discovered Whipple Craft Creations. I had seen them in my local toy store but hadn't tried them. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter and her friend tried them out and gave them two thumbs up! Kids can create and decorate different kinds of tasty treats that can then be turned into jewelry or keychains. Using the signature Whipple creme, think a pastry decorating bag, kids can ice their "baked goods" and then decorate them with beads and rhinestones. This is a great craft activity to work on improving bilateral coordination, increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on improving focus, attention and organizational skills. Kids confidence and self-esteem soar as they become more comfortable with the icing bag and they can make different kinds of decorations.
Arts and Crafts Library-while some kids are more comfortable with a structured craft activity, some are happier with something that allows them to be more creative and imaginative. The Arts and Crafts Library by Kids Made Modern contains over 1200 arts and crafts supplies (beads, pompoms, sequins, pipe cleaners, felt pieces, googly eyes, glue, etc.) for your little artist to make jewelry, sculptures or whatever else they can think of. The best part is that it all comes in a sturdy carrying case so you don't have to worry about things getting messy and all over the place. Kids can work on improving fine motor skills such as grasp strength and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills all while working on being more creative.
Fashion Plates/Action Plates-this is one of those toys that brings me back to my childhood! My little girl has aspirations to be a fashion designer when she grows up so when I gave these to her, she was super excited. Fashion plates encourage creativity while working on improving fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills, graphomotor skills, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills. If you have a kid who isn't into design, be sure to check out the Action Plates which lets kids design their own superhero!
Donut Pom-Pom Maker-I have an abundance of yarn at home so when my daughter showed an interest in making pom-poms, I did some research. While scouring the Rose & Rex website, I stumbled upon the Donut Pom-Pom maker and was sold. I have tried out a handful of pom pom makers and while I was able to easily use it, my daughter didn't and would become frustrated and give up. This was the first one where she was able to do it on her own.
**if you order directly from the Rose & Rex website, your purchase will provide 2 toys to a child in need.
Of Unusual Kind Paper Doll Kits-If you have a girly-girl (more appropriate for kids 6 and older) who loves fashion, then this is the perfect gift for them. Over the years, I have been on the hunt for the perfect paper doll sets. I have found great ones, but then you have to cut them all out and I get tired or bored and push them to the side to never be played with by my daughter. What I love about these paper dolls is that kids can pop all the pieces out instead of cutting them and then can be easily stored in the durable envelope that comes with each doll. All of the dolls have bendable/replaceable joints meaning they can move when playing with them. Outfits can be mixed and matched and everything is held in place with small brads (which is what allows the dolls to move around). Great for working on increasing fine motor and grasping skills, improves visual motor and perceptual skills, improves hand-eye coordination and helps to work on improving focus, attention, planning and organizational skills. Also encourages creativity and imagination while your child dresses the doll and brings her to life.
Nickelodeon Super Slimy Slime Kit-slime making continues to be all the rage with kids of all ages and if you are like me, you would rather just get a kit that has all of the supplies needed to make your own slime. This set by Cra-Z-Art comes with everything you need, including a spoon and mixing bowl, so you don't have to worry about using or ruining any of your own stuff. The best part about slime making is that it is a motivating activity that kids will want to do and can work on a ton of occupational therapy goals such as improving executive functioning skills (focus, attention, planning and organizational skills), improves visual motor and perceptual skills and once completed, is a great fine motor strengthening tool.
Dabitz Learner Desk Top-this is one of my favorite additions to this year's gift guide and great for older children who love to craft. Basically, kids take a picture of whatever they want, convert it to a pixelated image using the app that you can download and then print it out. It comes out of the printer with a pattern to follow using the 12 dabbers (special markers). Kids use the dabbers to fill in the picture (each color coordinates with a certain letter) This set comes in a portable case for your kids to take on the go and will keep your kids entertained for hours. It works on improving graphomotor skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.
Pottery Cool Studio-I have been on the lookout for a good pottery craft kit for a while and this one comes with glowing reviews from many parents and their kids. It is easy enough for kids to be able to do on their own (with supervision obviously) and comes with everything they need for 6 different projects (a jewelry holder, puppy picture holder, turtle dish, smart phone speaker, cupcake pencil holder and a pencil topper). Simply place the clay onto the turntable, spray with water and watch it spin and take its shape. Once it is done air-drying, kids can then paint and decorate their piece any way they want. This is not only great for encouraging creativity, it is a perfect craft activity to work on improving bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, motor planning, time management and organizational skills. At the end, kids have a masterpiece that they created with their own hands which leads to increased confidence and self-esteem.
Holographic Mixed By Me Thinking Putty Kit-I have been a big fan of Aaron's Thinking Putty for years and especially love how this company provides meaningful jobs to adults with developmental disabilities. I love all of the Thinking Putty sets but am a huge fan of their DIY sets that have come out in a few years. More importantly, I have tested this out with a lot of kids of varying ages and they all love it. Each kit includes 5 tins of clear putty, 3 glitter concentrates, 3 sparkle effects, 6 colored pencils, a mixing mat with suggestions for the kids to follow and 5 blank labels that kids can customize once they finish making their putty. Kids simply mix ingredients together and then they can play. This is great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills, hand-eye coordination and improves focus, attention, planning and organizational skills. It also encourages creativity by them making up their own names for the creations and works on graphomotor skills as they decorate their labes. The best part is that once the kids are done making their own putty, it lasts forever.
Common Loon Stencil Mega Pack-this is one of the my favorite things at one of my favorite stores, Norman and Jules. This is one of the greatest stencil sets out there. Each Mega Pack contains 5 different stencil rulers with different themes and a coloring poster in it's own little case. Some of the themes are robots, gardens and space. Kids can use the stencils to draw on blank paper or can add details onto the coloring posters. I love how you can throw one of these in your bag and take them along with you to keep your kids entertained. These are great for encouraging imagination and creativity while also working on improving bilateral coordination, graphomotor skills, hand-eye coordination and focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.
Little Lux DIY Necklace Kits-one of my daughters favorite gifts was her Fashion Designer necklace from one of her friends. Not only does she love jewelry, she's totally into fashion design and creating accessories. Little Lux is run by an 8 year old little girl and her father; together they have created some of the most adorable children's jewelry. The Fashion Designer necklace allows little fashionistas to design their own fashion necklace; they can use the markers to color in and decorate her clothing. Not only does it encourage creativity, it works on improving graphomotor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. There are a two other sets that come with all the materials and supplies needed to make their very own necklace; it not only includes a wooden object to color (cherries and palm tree) but comes with a handful of beads for them to put on their necklace to make it all their own.
Over the years, I have collected more coloring and activity books than I can count. When it comes to activity books, there are literally hundreds to choose from but finding the right ones can be be really tricky. Below, I share a handful of my favorite activity books for children. These have been tested out by my daughter and the kids I work with and are the ones that I never get complaints about when I pull them out. For me, a great activity book is one that engages children and gets their creative juices flowing. They also allow them to work on developing writing and drawing skills in a motivating way. I find the best ones are those that are not just about writing, coloring or drawing but incorporate all of those kinds of activities throughout the book.
Ordinary People Change the World Sticker Activity Book-one of my favorite sets of children's books are the Ordinary People Change the World books by Brad Meltzer. My daughter has learned so much about important historical figures by reading them so when I saw that there was an activity book, I knew it had to make my gift guide this year. You don't have to have read the books (but I do highly recommend those as well) to be able to use this activity book. Kids will learn about a variety of historical figures and then can test their knowledge through a bunch of different kinds of games and activities. This is not only great for increasing your child's knowledge about some of our country's most important people, but is also great for working on improving handwriting skills, visual motor and perceptual activities and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills.
MishMania Activity Books-finding a new series of activity books is like hitting the jackpot for me. I was in a local bookstore during the summer when I found the MishMania books and was immediately drawn to them. As of right now, the following books are available with more in the works in years to come.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Cool As A Cucumber
Hit The Road
Each books comes with pages and pages of fun activities including coloring, drawing, cutting, etc.. One of my favorite activities is in the Monster Madness book where kids have to cut out all different pictures of monsters to play a matching game. These books are great for school age kids (kindergarten to 3rd or 4th grade depending on their skill level). There are many activities that kids can do on their own but also several in each book that can be done with siblings or friends (matching activities for example).
Usborne Write and Draw Your Own Comics-if you are looking for a fun way to encourage kids to want to learn how to draw and write, I highly recommend using a comic book format. For some reason, my kids who dread writing seem to enjoy this format to work on graphomotor skills. I've seen a bunch of DIY comic books, but The Write and Draw Your Own Comics by Usborne is my favorite because it provides prompts and ideas to get kids started. Many of the kids I work with need that extra push to get their imagination and creative juices flowing but once they are given that push, they soar. In addition to be a fun way to work on improving writing skills, it's great for working on improving focus, attention, planning and organizational skills. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, kids confidence and self-esteem around writing improve as they become more successful.
Me: A Compendium: A Fill In Journal For Kids-this fill in the blank journal is geared towards the preschool set of kids and helps them to identify all their unique qualities. If kids can write themselves, have them fill in answers themselves (do not focus on the spelling); if they can't write, do it for them. What I like about this book is that on many of the pages, kids can either write or draw their answers. This book is filled with kid-friendly illustrations that get the kids thinking about things about themselves, things they like and how they might see different images. For example, one page has a picture of two pieces of bread and they have to draw what they like inside of their sandwich. Another page has a picture of a person and they have to either draw or write what's in their brain right now.
Kids will work on developing graphomotor skills, creativity and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills. This is a fun book to do with your child and can stimulate conversational skills, confidence and self-esteem as they complete each page.
Construction and Building Toys
Building toys are great for a variety of reasons. They are one of the things that I tell parents to splurge on because good building sets will last forever. When my daughter was younger, I discovered that she and my husband loved to build and create things so I went out and bought a few sets of building toys. To this day, her Magna-Tiles are still out and used all the time by her and her friends on play dates. They continue to be worth every penny I paid!
One of the biggest benefits of building toys is the opportunity to offer open-ended play experiences for kids. Open-ended play is crucial for the development of imagination and creativity in children of all ages. Through open ended play, kids can develop a variety of social and emotional skills such as empathy, cooperation, problem solving, and improved self-confidence and self-esteem. There are also a number of cognitive benefits of open ended play including working memory, self-regulation, organizational skills and so much more. While all of the building sets I recommend come with suggestions and visual directions, they can also use their imagination and build whatever they want. Another thing I like about building toys is that they can be done by a single child or can be done with a group of kids, which is great for working on improving teamwork and other social skills.
In addition to working on all that I have previously mentioned, building toys are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, increases grasp strength and manipulation skills. If children follow visual directions while building, they are also good for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills.
Tegu-these continue to be one of my favorite construction toys since I discovered them. These wooden blocks have magnets built in so they can stick together. Since they stick together so easily, they are great for children who may present with decreased grasp or upper extremity strength or have difficulty with bilateral coordination due to physical limitations. Tegu blocks come in a variety of color-waves and each set comes with a variety of different shapes. In the last couple of years, they have begun offering kits that you can make different vehicles, monsters, robots and smaller travel packs that are perfect for throwing in your bag to keep kids entertained in the car, at a restaurant or while waiting in waiting rooms. One of the things that I love is that because they are magnetic, they can stick to any metal surface like a refrigerator so you can work on building upper extremity strength at the same time as creating.
The Offbits-I had been on the lookout for construction sets that would be more motivating and
Plus Plus-I was originally drawn towards Plus-Plus Mini pieces because of their bright colors and convenient packaging (the tubes were just perfect to throw in my bag and keep my daughter entertained when we were on the go). Once I started using them, I realized what a great tool they were for reaching occupational therapy goals. In addition to being an awesome open ended building toy to work on improving creativity, they were ideal for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping, strengthening and bilateral coordination and for working on visual motor and perceptual skills. Kids can follow the visuals provided with each set to build something or can use their imagination and create whatever comes to mind. For younger children, be sure to check out the Plus-Plus Midi pieces.
Timber Planks-sometimes kids need opportunities to build and create without any rules....to have an opportunity to play where there is no right or wrong to what they are doing. Timber Planks are perfect for this. This set comes with 300 planks (270 natural wood and 30 bright orange) that kids can stack and arrange to create large structures. Not only is this a great toy to work on increasing creativity and imaginative play, it is great for working on improving fine motor skills, visual-motor and perceptual skills and improving focus, attention and organizational skills. Kids can play with them on their own or can be used in groups.
Build & Imagine Building Sets-I've been a long time fan of Magna-Tiles and they make my list every year but this year, I have become obsessed with the Build & Imagine building sets. Instead of colored tiles, the Build and Imagine sets are made up of tiles with pictures that when put together create a castle, a pet portrait studio and many other things. In addition to the tiles, each set includes a bunch of magnets to add details to the tiles and dolls that can be dressed and played with. Kids can work on so many skills when playing with the Build & Imagine sets including developing fine motor and manipulation skills, improving spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills. At the same time, kids are offered an open-ended play experience that builds creativity and imagination skills. My speech therapist friends love how kids can work on improving their language skills and work on storytelling skills when playing with them.
Natural Building Blocks (Waldorf Construction Toy)-one of my daughters favorite playgrounds in Brooklyn is found in Prospect Park. It's a natural playground that has been built using fallen trees. When my friend Heather from Hope Learning Toys showed me these natural birch and oak building blocks, I immediately thought of them and how much kids enjoy playing and building when out in nature. Now with this all natural open-ended building set, kids work on building imagination and creativity skills as well as spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. The 30 piece set comes with a different sized blocks and opens young minds to create and construct.
Fort Boards-if you have a kid who loves to build forts, these are a great gift for them. The sets come in a handful of colors and can be used indoors or outdoors to build. Fort Boards are large tiles that snap together and can be turned into structures that kids can play inside of. We have been using Fort Boards with our kids at The Meeting House and the kids just can't get enough of them. I love that while they invite kids to play together to create and build a fort....and what I have noticed is that the bigger the structure is, the happier the kids are! Fort Boards are great for working on increasing grasp and upper extremity strength, improves spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination, encourages creativity and imagination skills, and is a fun way to work on improving executive functioning skills such as focus/attention, planning and organizational skills.
Popoids-I discovered Popoids when on a mission to buy a bunch of birthday gifts and they have been one of my favorite finds of the year. This open-ended construction toy encourages problem solving, organizational skills and creative thinking. The set comes with 36 colored mini poptubes and 24 different shaped connectors that kids use to build and create. The set comes with some suggestions on what to make but when I have my kids use them at work, I have them build whatever they want. Popoids are great for working on a variety of occupational therapy goals such as improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination.
Click Blocks-this 100 piece set of natural wooden blocks comes with different colored and shaped blocks that invite kids to build and create. These are something that your kids will play with for years and years and well worth the investment. For many of the kids I work with, building with blocks can cause a lot of frustration because they may have decreased coordination and can easily knock down their creations. The Click blocks are similar to Legos in the sense that they can be pushed together and stay together until you pull them apart. In addition to being great for encouraging creativity and imagination, they are also great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills. They also work on improving bilateral coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and hand-eye coordination.
Big Body/Gross Motor
Many kids would rather watch television or play video games. Depending on where you live, as the weather starts to change, it becomes harder to convince your kids to get up and moving. Below, I share a handful of my favorite gross motor toys that will make getting up and moving around fun for your kids. They all work on improving motor planning, coordination and organizational skills as well as focus and attention and several other things.
Sidewalk Mandala Stencil-one of my favorite outdoor activities is drawing with chalk. There are so many therapeutic benefits to outdoor chalk drawing. In addition to being a fun way to work on graphomotor (drawing, practicing letters, shapes, numbers, etc.), it is a great way to work on increasing upper extremity strength. These chalk stencils are nice for those kids who have a hard time with initiating drawing because it gives them a place to start. Once they trace their first stencil, they may have an easier time adding details to their drawing. In addition to being great for working on increasing upper body strength, it's also works on improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. It's also wonderful for encouraging creativity, imagination and could be a perfect social activity with friends or peers.
Zoom Ball-another one of the toys that makes this list year after year. The Zoom Ball is a great toy that helps kids work on improving upper extremity strength, motor planning and coordination and collaborative play. It's a great toy for kids to play inside or outside. In this two person gross motor activity, kids send a football like ball back and forth to each other. This requires a tremendous amount of focus, attention and requires kids to work together. One thing I like to do when using it at work is to have kids answer questions as they are sending the ball back to me. For example, when I have the ball, I might ask "What is your favorite color?". They then have to answer the question when they send it back to me. This is a great way to encourage back and forth conversation for kids who might struggle with that.
Double Rocket Launcher-this is easily one of the most popular toys at Heads Up, the therapeutic gym I work at in New York City. Kids of all ages love it and don't realize how many gross motor skills they are working on when playing with it. This is a great toy to work on jumping, running, coordination, motor planning and organizational skills. If you have a lot of space or playing with it outside, you can have kids have races to catch the rockets or have them take turns catching the rockets for each other.
Foldaway Trampoline-I wrote about this awesome child-sized trampoline a few weeks ago in great depth and knew it would have to be included in this years gift guide. Living in NYC, you don't always have the space to keep things like a trampoline out in your apartment. People are also concerned about kids getting hurt when they are not being supervised while jumping on the trampoline. So a trampoline that will fold in half and take up almost no room was so great to find. Many of the kids I work with benefit from jumping on a trampoline for sensory purposes. It can help organize them and provide them with proprioceptive input that helps to improve body awareness.
Step and Play Piano-one of my all time favorite scenes from any movie was the piano scene from Big. Up until a couple of years ago, kids go visit FAO in NYC and test out that piano by themselves and the line was always full of anxious kids to try it out. This giant piano is a great way to work on gross motor and motor planning skills but in a really fun and motivating way for kids. I love that kids can do this by themselves or with a sibling or friend. They can record their masterpiece so once they are done making their music, they can listen to it again. In addition to the gross motor benefits, it's great for working on improving coordination, bilateral coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Scooter-living in NYC, parents are always looking for a way to get from point A to point B as quickly as they can. Once their kids outgrow their strollers, they are eager to find something that will be faster than their kids just walking. While there are a ton of different scooters to choose from these days, the only one I suggest to families are the ones by Micro Kickboard. Great for working on helping improve gross motor skills, including strength, endurance and motor planning skills. I have also found that kids with sensory processing difficulties who scoot to school instead of sitting in a stroller or taking a bus/cab are more focused and organized for their school day.
Jump! Leap! Crazy Feet! Carpet-I'm a big fan of this activity mat that has three movement games in one encourages kids to get up and be active. It's a great thing to have especially as we are expecting colder weather soon and kids don't get out quite as much. Kids can use this by themselves or with friends or siblings. The three games are:
Crazy Feet: follow the multi-colored foot patterns across the board. This is great for working on improving coordination skills, motor planning, following directions, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Long Leap: a simple jumping contest.....see how far you can jump. Challenge yourself by beating your record!
High Knees: this game is played with another child. Stand facing each and move as quickly as you can from one square to another taking two steps into each square and lifting their knees as high as they can until they reach the end of the carpet.
Jungle Jumparoo-this is one of those things that I wish I could have for my daughter but living in NYC and not having a yard to put it in makes it impossible. I reached out to my friend Lizzie from The Workspace for Children who loves this for her 3 children. I love it because it is a safe jumping tool which is great for children who have sensory processing difficulties; it provides a ton of sensory input which is great for improving body awareness, organizational skills and can help with focus and attention. Lizzie gave me her three reasons she loves it for her family:
1. Everyone can use it. Toddlers or teenagers, it's safe and fun for all ages.
2. It's an invitation to jump and climb while playing and making up imaginative games. Ours has been a jail, a house, a cozy bed, along with other things.
3. It's really sturdy and has held up very well over the year and a half we've owned it.
Use the following code to receive a discount: WORKSPACE50