This is one of my favorite parts of my holiday guide year after year. I love finding little treasures that will not only entertain kids but will work on improving a variety of developmental skills. Personally, I find shopping for stocking stuffers more fun than anything because my daughter spends more time picking out her Santa gifts. The things that she opens in her stocking are usually 100% a surprise and more often than not, the things she is most interested in since they are totally novel.
I am constantly on the lookout for little toys and gifts when exploring my neighborhood stores. There are a lot of holiday gifts that can't be found at my local stores but I do my best to support y local small businesses when I can. Many of the items listed below can be found at the following New York City/Brooklyn based stores: Lion In The Sun, Pink Olive, Little Things, Norman & Jules, Lulu's Cut and Toys, Stationery and Toy World on the UWS, Mary Arnold Toys and West Side Kids.
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.
These are just a handful of my favorite small gifts. I would love to hear from you all and hear about your favorite small gifts/stocking stuffers. I am always a click away and am always happy to hear from my readers with their suggestions.