Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2018 Holiday Gift Guide-This and That

In this installment of the 2018 Holiday Gift Guide, I share a bunch of my favorite toys, games and craft sets. I have also included a handful of my favorite monthly subscriptions. This is a new addition to my list and it is something I am really excited about. There are a lot of great ones out there and the ones I included are ones that are ideal for children who may need to work on improving fine motor and sensory processing skills. The fun thing about these subscriptions are that they give kids something to look forward to each month after the holidays are over.

Easel-one of the greatest gifts my daughter got for one of her first Christmas' was an easel. She had it for years so it was certainly worth the investment of getting a really good one. Working on an incline is great for developing upper extremity strength, trunk control and encourages grasping skills. I am going to recommend two different ones depending on what kind of space you have. For those of you have a significant amount of space, this Wooden Art Easel from Crate Kids. One side has a black chalkboard, the other has a white board and there is a place for a roll of paper on the top for painting and drawing. There is also plenty of storage space in the frame to store your paints and paintbrushes. If you don't have quite as much space, Crate Kids has this awesome Table Top Easel which features a chalkboard on one side, magnetic white board on the other, a dowel on the bottom that holds a roll of paper and space to hold four paint cups. The nice thing about this one is that if you don't have the real estate to keep an easel out permanently this one folds up for easy storage.
Here are some of my favorite craft accessories that can be paired with an easel and are perfect for kids of all ages. 
*OOLY Chunkie Paint Sticks
*'lil Poster Paint Pods
*Chroma Blends Watercolor Paint Set
*Mumbo Jumbo Chunky Markers
*'lil Paint Brush Set
*Washable Paint Set

I Can Do That! Activity Books-I am totally addicted to these activity books for preschoolers from Lazoo. Even better, my kids love them and are so motivated to work on challenging fine motor and graphomotor skills. Finding good activity books can be difficult so when I do find them, I love to share them with everyone I know. The books described below are small and can be thrown in a bag, keeping kids entertained while in the car, traveling or when in restuarants.
I Can Do That! Erasable Art-this coloring book is perfect for keeping kids entertained on the go. The pictures are simple but of familiar objects.
*I like to have my kids use these neon gel highlighters from Ooly. Not only are they great for kids who might have decreased grasp strength because it doesn't require much pressure for the colors to show up, they are easy for kids to erase. The bonus for the kids is that they smell delightful!
I Can Do That! Origami-this super simple cutting and folding projects for preschoolers helps develop cutting skills and folding skills which are great for developing fine motor and grasping skills. There are a bunch of activities with no more than 3 steps where kids can turn pictures into something else.
I Can Do That! Stickers-this is another favorite of the kids at work. I mean, anytime you include stickers in a project it's sure to be a big hit! Kids not only work on developing fine motor, grasping and coordination skills, they can work on problem-solving, early math and reasoning skills through the simple activities. Another great thing about this is that the stickers are reusable so it isn't a one and done kind of thing.

Wooden Magnetic Earth Tiles-I am a huge fan of Magna-Tiles and have given them as first birthday gifts countless times. However, I love the idea of non-plastic options so when I found these, I was psyched. Earth tiles are made from a durable, sustainable wood with magnets hidden inside so they easily stick to each other. These open-ended building toys encourage creativity and imagination skills, help with developing fine motor and grasping skills, improves bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination and visual motor skills. At the same time, young children can learn about shapes with these triangular and square shaped blocks.

Squigz-a holiday gift guide wouldn't be complete without mentioning Squigz. For younger kids, be sure to check out pipSquigz and the Suction Kupz. These oversized suction cup toys will keep your kids entertained for hours  while helping develop fine motor and grasping skills (and can even help with giving some relief when teething). Each one of the pipSquiz is a different shape, has a different tactile experience and a different sound. The Suction Kupz come in a set of 6 and can be used to put other little toys in, house snacks or just be used as a toy to explore. They are both perfect for keeping kids engaged while sitting in their stroller or high chair or even while getting bathed. For older kids, there are a whole series of Squigz from Fat Brain Toys. These open ended toys are great for working on developing grasping skills and bilateral coordination, improve hand-eye coordination, focus and attention and encourage kids to be more creative and imaginative. These are great to keep in your bag for long car trips as they can stick to windows and provide your child with hours of entertainment.

Lalaboom Pop Beads-I love when I find a traditional toy that has been given a bit of a modern update to it. I can remember playing with the Fisher-Price pop beads as a child and still recommend pop beads to parents who are looking for developmental toys for their babes. I was killing time at the beginning of the year and scouring Fat Brain Toys when I stumbled upon the Lalaboom beads. These snap together beads are a great way for young children to work on increasing grasp and upper extremity strength, improves bilateral coordination, motor planning skills and hand-eye coordination. What's nice about these beads are that they each have a different texture on the outside making it an opportunity for sensory exploration. The other great thing about them is that each bead is actually two parts and can be screwed apart and they can mix and match beads. So as kids grow, the way they can play with this toy changes and becomes increasingly more challenging.

Bright Basics Peg Garden-peg boards are so great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and focus and attention in children as young as 1 years old but are oftentimes so simple that they don't always hold the interest of children for long. Educational Insights has a way of making this important toy more fun for kids. Last year, I featured the Learning Resources Peg Friends Stacking Farm set (which I still use multiple times per week at work). I am in love with this garden themed pegboard which comes with 15 flower pegs and 12 different insects that they can place on top of the flowers. This is great for improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and focus and attentional skills. What's nice about this pegboard set is that it can be graded to work on different kinds of skills such as sorting the flowers by color, matching the bugs, counting and color identification.

Yeti, Set, Go!-this new game from Play Monster is a mix between Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Yeti in My Spaghetti and has been a huge hit with my kids at work. This goal of this four player game is to be the first player to get all of your meatballs on the mountain ledges. Kids put the meatball on the Yeti's foot, aim in the right place and push the head down. The trick is that if you hit the head to soft the meatball won't go anywhere and if you push too hard it will fly across the room! This game is great for working on hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, focus, attention and self-regulation.


Googly Eyes Game-finding games for older children can be a challenge. How many times do kids roll their eyes when parents suggest a game night? The key to this not happening is finding a super fun game. Googly Eyes is just that. Players pick a card with a word on it and have to draw a picture. The challenge is that they are wearing glasses (three different lenses) that alter their vision making it much harder to draw what they are supposed to. Kids roll the dice, move their pieces and where they land will determine which set of lenses they have to use to draw their picture. This is not only a fun game, it is a great way to work on graphomotor skills without the pressure of things having to be perfect.

Panda Rollers-this game is geared towards preschoolers and is a really fun way to work on improving visual skills such as visual discrimination, visual tracking and visual motor skills. Kids shake the dice and race to be the first player to match your panda face cards to the colors of the dice shown. The first one to correctly make their panda face receives a reward tile. The person with the most tiles is the winner. This game is also great for working on improving social skills such as being a good winner/loser and turn taking.

Bop-It-I have to admit I am a bit of a sucker for toys that were popular when I was younger. Bop-It was one of those toys that always provided me with that just right challenge and I now love using it with my kids at work. It is one of my go-to toys to work on developing executive functioning skills and to help with increasing frustration tolerance. While there are quite a few to choose from these days, I think the original is the best, especially for kids who might have decreased frustration tolerance or difficulty with focus and attention. In addition to being great for working on executive functioning skills, it is a fun tool to help develop fine motor and grasping skills, improves hand-eye coordination and improves bilateral coordination.

Simon Game-another oldie but goodie and a great game for older school age children who are on your list this year. This is another game that I encourage parents to get for their kids who need to work on improving executive functioning skills. The Simon game is an electronic game where the players have to watch a light sequence and then repeat it in the correct order. The more they can repeat, the higher their score is. In addition to working on executive functioning skills, playing the Simon game also works on hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills, sequencing and can work on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills.

Giant Coloring Posters-these are still one of my favorite things as it is a gift that can last a long time and can be done with friends and family making it a true collaborative project. There are a ton to choose from but my friends over at Norman & Jules have a great selection from a company called Omy that I like the best. Other than the obvious goal of working on improving graphomotor skills, there are a ton of other skills that can be worked on using these giant coloring posters. For example, if you hang it on a wall, kids can work on a vertical surface which is great for building upper extremity strength and shoulder stability and improves core strength. Additionally, it can be a wonderful social activity. We have actually had one one year in my social skills group and it was really fun to watch the kids talk about what they were coloring, what colors they were choosing and having to compromise when someone else might have wanted to color in part of the picture that someone else might have wanted.

Kid Made Modern Arts and Crafts Supply Library-this craft kit is easily one of my most favorite gifts and I actually use it at work on a daily basis. This kit comes with over 1,200 different art supplies including pom-poms, beads, various kinds of pipe-cleaners, googly eyes, felt pieces and SO much more. The best part about it is that it comes in a super sturdy case with compartments for everything. While they give you a simple guide with some ideas of things you can make, this kit is intended to ignite creativity and encourages kids to come up with their own ideas. I have loved seeing how my kids have looked through all the supplies, make a plan and then bring their idea to life. Not only are they working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, they are working on improving executive functioning skills such as task initiation, planning and prioritizing and organizational skills.

Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-these are a long time favorite of mine and they have recently added a bunch of new sets. Sticky Mosaics are a great activity for working on developing grasping skills, increases grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills, visual tracking and focus, attention and organizational skills. As kids complete their pictures by matching the stickers to the correct number, their confidence and self-esteem soar as they see their hard work turn into something that they can hang up and display. Be sure to check out local toy stores for these. I have found that they are in lots of the local small businesses here in the New York City area.

DIY Pin and Flair Set-this DIY kit was a gift my daughter received last year for her birthday and she loved it. Kids can color, cut and then bake (think Shrinky Dinks) 18 different pins or other kinds of accessories. This simple activity encourages kids to be creative and express themselves through their color choices and design while working on improving coloring skills, executive functioning skills and increasing confidence and self-esteem.

Chalk Blocks-if you are a regular reader, you know that I am a sucker for a good set of blocks. I am totally obsessed with this set of wooden chalkboard building blocks. Each set comes with 7 blocks, dustless chalk (which lasts longer than conventional chalk), a set of mini paint brushes and a chalk sharpener. What I love about these are kids can work on handwriting and drawing skills while also encouraging creativity and imagination skills. Building with any kind of blocks is also great for developing executive functioning skills such as planning, problem solving and task completion.

Alphabet Blocks-i'm always on the hunt for tools that make learning and writing letters and shapes more motivating for kids. A few months ago, my friends over at Rose and Rex send me this set of alphabet blocks that has quickly become a favorite of the kids at work. These oversized wooden blocks have hand-painted letters, numbers and shapes on all the sides. What makes these unique is that one side of each block is painted in chalkboard paint which kids can use to practice their writing skills. I have had kids practice writing their names by filling in blank letters or have them fill in missing letters of common sight words. They love that after they are done, they love that they can erase it.

Eeboo Pretend Play Stickers-one thing we know about the holidays is that we end up with a ton of cardboard boxes of different sizes. One of my daughter's favorite things to do to this day is to use these boxes to build all kinds of things with. The hours that were spent making and creating were some of our favorite and most creative hours. When I discovered these pretend play stickers by Eeboo, I was ecstatic. Many of the kids I work with are too young or have trouble with initiating play and these are perfect for them. There are 3 sets to choose from (Car, Kitchen, Spaceship) and each comes with 5 sheets of reusable stickers. In addition to being a perfect tool for encouraging pretend play, creativity and imagination skills, it is great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, hand-eye coordination and visual motor skills. It's also a great social skills tool!

Design and Drill-this is a big hit with so many of the kids I work with and I love how many ways it can be used to address therapeutic goals. There are a ton of great sets to choose from depending on what your child's interests are. They have sets that use a battery operated drill or a screwdriver that requires children to use more muscle power but the goal of each of them is pretty much the same. Using the drill or screwdriver, kids fill in the holes with different colored bolts. Kids can either follow patterns provided with each set or create their own designs. Some of the sets have you decorate robots, princess crowns, etc. and others that are just a blank canvas for the kids to fill in. These are great for working on increasing grasp strength, improves visual motor and perceptual skills and helps with focus, attentional and organizational skills.

Buggzle-I like this puzzle game for a variety of reasons. First of all, I like that it is small and can be thrown in a bag to keep kids entertained while waiting for an appointment, while traveling or in a restaurant. Kids pick one of the 40 challenge cards and then have to use the puzzle pieces to make their bug match what is shown on the card. This game is a great way to work on developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, critical thinking, focus, attention and organizational skills.

Sensory TheraPlay Box-this is something I discovered last year and tried out myself for work and I now look forward to the email each month telling me this sensory subscription box is on it's way. First of all, I have been introduced to a countless number of new products that have had been such a positive addition to my practice. It's also given me a ton of tools to be able to recommend to other therapists and families I work with. Each month I receive a box arrives at my door with 5-7 sensory tools hand-picked by the occupational therapist who started this product. I have received fidget toys, special kinds of putty and play doh and home exercise plans to name just a few. While this subscription box was intended for children on the spectrum or for children with sensory processing difficulties, I have been introduced to so many great products that help children of all abilities.

Pipsticks Sticker Club-this is one of my daughter's favorite things she has ever gotten. Each month, she receives an envelope filled with 15 sheets of unique stickers, a pre-stamped postcard (that she often uses to send her cousins or a friend), an activity booklet and a reusable pouch to store everything in. In addition to kids just loving stickers, using them has a lot of therapeutic value and they don't even know it. They are great for working on improving grasping skills, improves visual skills, improves hand-eye coordination and can encourage creativity. I can't tell you the number of hours my daughter and her friends have spent endless hours creating stories and comics using her Pipstick sticker collection.

Mrs. Grossman's Sticker Club-this is another awesome sticker club but one that I recommend for younger kids. Very much like Pipsticks, this monthly subscription comes with at least 15 sheets of Mrs. Grossman's stickers. What's fun about this sticker club is that in addition to getting new stickers, they include classic and not-yet released stickers. Like I mentioned above, using stickers has a lot of therapeutic value and they don't even know it. They are great for working on improving grasping skills, improves visual skills, improves hand-eye coordination and can encourage creativity.

We Craft Box-I have a kid who is really into her arts and crafts but we don't always know what to do with the supplies that we have lying around our house. There are a lot of families out there that would like to be into crafting but don't know where to start. When I discovered the We Craft Box I thought of so many of the kids I work with now who would love to get a box filled with all the supplies necessary to complete 2-3 themed crafts for two children. What I really love about this is that they come with photo directions so kids can follow them independently (with supervision from an adult) when possible. For older siblings, they can help develop confidence and self-esteem by helping their younger siblings to complete their craft projects. This gift that keeps on giving is great for developing fine motor and grasping skills, encourages creativity and imagination skills, works on visual motor, and perceptual skills and SO many other developmental skills.

There is so much more that I could have added to this list! If there is something specific that you are looking for, I have a lot more gift ideas that are great for working on a variety of skills. Just remember, I am only a click away and love hearing from everyone. Don't hesitate reaching out with specific ideas for your children!

The most important thing I look for when I put this list together is that the products don't seem like a therapy exercise for the kids. An added bonus is when they can be something that children of all ages and abilities can enjoy. Sometimes it might mean you have to adjust the rules or expectations for some children to be successful, but those adjustments are simple.
























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