Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let's Get Crafty!

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
Monster Madness
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.



I Like.....Activity Book-similar to Me, this activity book is geared more towards younger children (but kids of all ages will have fun filling it in) and can be done with a grownup if a child might need more help.  Kids can fill in the blanks while writing a letter to someone (encourage a child who can write to fill in the answers without worry about the spelling), draw toppings on a pizza or circle multiple choice questions about themselves.  The illustrations by Sara Walsh are beautiful and kids will love looking back at this as they get older.  In addition to working on improving graphomotor skills, it can encourage conversation and creativity skills.  Also great for working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills and improving confidence and self-esteem.  

I could honestly go on and on with arts and craft and activity book suggestions but had to stop myself!  Truth be told, I personally love all of the things recommended on this list and look forward to doing them with my daughter or with the kids at work.  One of the great things about the items here is that while they work on developing a variety of developmental skills, they are also wonderful for developing confidence and self-esteem in kids.  As they see things come to life because of their hard work, they become more motivated to try more challenging things.

Do you have any amazing arts and crafts sets or activity books that you just love?  I am always on the lookout for finding new things to incorporate into my sessions and love hearing from others.  I am always a click away and love hearing from each and every one of you.  



Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Small Stuff-2017 Holiday Gift Edition

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 ToysStationery 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.





















Friday, November 17, 2017

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
kinds of Squigz pieces, children can create a fun friend.  Tobbly Wobbly is an egg shaped structure that is weighted on the bottom making it easier for little ones to place the pieces on without it moving around too much.  One of my favorite things about Tobbly Wobbly is that it has built-in storage so you don't have to worry about losing pieces.  Once your child has finished making their very own Tobbly Wobbly, they can take the pieces off and put it all inside.  This toy is great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills, bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and spatial awareness.  I have used this to help children gain better body awareness by encouraging them to put pieces where they would be on their own body which can be quite challenging for many of the kids I work.  For the most part, I encourage kids to be creative and have fun when building their Tobbly Wobbly character.

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.