I can't believe the time to work on my gift guide is already here! With Hanukkah less than a month away and Christmas just about 6 weeks away, it's time to start thinking gifts. My first installment of this year's gift guide will focus on open-ended toys. This is something that I have been trying to incorporate into both my private occupational therapy practice and during the hang-out time for my kids in The Meeting House Juniors program.
I wish I had known more about the importance of open-ended play when my daughter was younger because there are so many benefits. Here are five benefits of open-ended play opportunities for children:
1. Provides opportunities for kids of all ages to explore ideas and concept such as mathematics and science. Additionally, it helps with improving problem solving skills and increased language development.
2. It provides kids with a stress-free play environment where kids don't have to worry about doing things perfectly all the time
3. Open-ended play helps kids develop both social and emotional intelligence.
4. It provides kids with the chance to teach themselves things since they aren't being told how to play with these kinds of toys.
5. It helps in developing confidence and increased self-esteem in children.
The toys recommended below would actually be considered investment pieces. They are things that will cost more money but will last forever. I actually have a handful of these from when my daughter was younger (she is now 8 1/2 years old) and they are still in rotation when she plays. When I have to buy a gift for a special family member or friend, these are some of my go-to's.
Squigz-since I discovered these a few years ago, this line of toys from Fat Brain Toys has evolved and they keep getting better. Be sure to check out the full line of Squigz that I have linked to see what is best for your child. I've been using the original Squigz with my kids for years and one of the things I love about them is that they still look brand new. They are really well made and can take a beating from being used by dozens and dozens of kids. These open-ended suction cup toys stick to each other and onto a variety of surfaces (I've used them on mirrors, in the bathtub and windows). Squigz are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination all while letting kids use their imagination to create structures.
Magna-Tiles-a long time favorite of mine and one of my favorite gifts to give. These are definitely worth every penny spent and will last a lifetime. And let me say one thing...I have ordered generic magnetic tiles before and they just don't hold up the same way the original Magna-Tiles do. I have had the same set for years and years and they have been used by hundreds of kids, been dunked in water and been used to build some pretty awesome structures on the sidewalks of Brooklyn and have held up beautifully. Magna-Tiles are great for encouraging creativity and imagination skills and also for working on developing visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills. These are also great to encourage social skills by having kids build things together. Also, Magna-Tiles are a great gift for children who have disabilities that inhibit their motor skills. Because of the magnets, the blocks stick together with less effort and allow kids to be more successful which also encourages learning.
Wooden Building Blocks-I can still remember the hours and hours of fun I had with my sisters building with our blocks years ago. It's so nice that all these years later, I can go into any classroom and see a bookshelf filled with classic blocks and see kids swarming around them. With that in mind, I go back to my comment about investment pieces. A good set of wooden blocks will last you forever so it's worth spending more for a good quality set. This set by Guidecraft has 84 different pieces of varying sizes and shapes and are amazing in quality. Building with blocks has so many benefits (read this article that lists them all) including encouraging creativity, imagination and increasing confidence and self-esteem. It is also great for for working on problem solving and organizational skills, increasing upper extremity strength and bilateral coordination skills. Additionally, building blocks are a perfect toy to work on improving social skills, such as taking turns, being flexible about ideas and working with a team to build something.
Plus-Plus Blocks-I first fell in love with Plus-Plus blocks because of their fun colors and the how they were a perfect portable fine-motor tool. The more I played with them with my daughter, the more I realized how wonderful they were for developing fine motor and grasping skills. We have had countless hours of fun making all kinds of creations with our Plus-Plus blocks. We even used them to practice making letters, numbers and shapes when she was younger. In addition to working on fine motor skills, Plus-Plus blocks help to develop bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills while encouraging creativity and imagination. One of the things I love most about Plus-Plus blocks is that they are a great on-the-go activity and can easily be kept in a backpack or purse to keep your kids entertained while waiting at appointments, while out to dinner or in the car/airplane without the use of technology.
Winter Themed Loose Parts Set-you can't go wrong with anything from the Hope Learning Toys shop on Etsy. All of the products are amazing and encourage learning with sensory play experiences in mind. The Winter Loose Parts Box is one of my favorites and would make a perfect gift for your little one. Each set comes with a 6-piece stackable tree and dowel, a jar of homemade play dough, 4-piece snowman family, glass beads, mini pine cones and so much more. This set will not only encourage creativity and imagination skills, it will work on developing fine motor, visual motor and perceptual skills while providing opportunities to work on increasing focus, attention and organizational skills.
Joinks-this is another great open-ended toy that helps in developing fine motor and grasping skills. The set comes with a variety of wooden dowels, silicone connectors with up to 5 prongs and suction cup connectors that help make your creation stick to different surfaces. Joints are great for individual or group play and encourages creativity, imagination skills, problem solving and organizational skills. Additionally, they work on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and increases grasp strength and manipulation skills.
Tegu Magnetic Blocks-I feel in love with Tegu blocks the minute I saw them years ago and have a pretty sweet collection of them that daughter still uses to this day. Like Magna-Tiles, these magnetic blocks are great for children who may have difficulty with manipulating other kinds of building blocks due to physical disabilities. The set I have linked is a good first set and comes with 42 pieces in various shapes and sizes but there are so many other sets to check out here. Tegu blocks encourage creativity and imagination skills while also working on developing grasping skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills.
Rainbow Family Peg Doll Sorter-this is something I bought on a whim a few months ago and have been pleasantly surprised at how much use they have gotten at work. It is a simple toy with endless possibilities. The set consists of 6 rainbow colored boxes which house 4 matching peg dolls in 4 sizes. I have used this to work on skills such as color identification, sorting and matching but I have been so excited to see how the kids all have their own way of playing and interacting with the dolls. Some kids have organized their sorting all of one color at a time and placing them in the box in size order which shows some pretty awesome executive functioning skills.
Way To Play Highway Play Set-this is one of my new favorite toys of the season and definitely worth splurging on if you have a kid who loves to build and play with cars/vehicles. They have also been a huge hit with all my kids at work. Kids can make their own roads by connecting the segments. These can be used on any surface and used indoors or outdoors. These are great for encouraging creativity and imagination, works on developing bilateral coordination skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and helps with increasing grasping skills. It's also a great activity to encourage social skills by having kids work together to build their roads.
Areaware Blockitecture Big City-this block set is a perfect compliment to the Way To Play Highway Play Set. Once the kids build their road, they can use these blocks to build a whole city around the road. They not only helps them develop hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, it helps with developing planning and reasoning skills. As with all kinds of other building blocks, these will help with social and emotional growth by having kids work together to create their city, taking turns adding things to the city and being flexible when their friends are adding things they may not want.
Does your family have a favorite open-ended toy? It's always fun to hear from families and therapists what kind of open-ended materials they use to encourage creativity in children.
Be sure to keep checking back for the rest of my 2018 Gift Guides. If you are looking for something specific for your child(ren), please let me know. I am always a click away and love hearing from everyone.