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.
These are just a few of the things I love for younger children. Each of them help children develop crucial skills they will need as they get older and the academic and social expectations increase. I've tried to make recommendations that parents will enjoy playing with as much as their children do. And the things that are a little pricier than you want to spend are things that will last forever and be part of your child's collection for years to come. Does your child have a favorite toy, game or building blocks set that you would recommend to me or my readers? I love hearing from you all and am only a click away.