2014 Holiday Gift Guide

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Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, shopping for kids can be quite overwhelming.  There are so many kids’ products out there now and if your kid is like mine, they want absolutely everything. Each year, the parents of the children I work with come to me and ask me about what they should get their children for the holidays. One of their biggest concerns is that their kids have so much stuff already and they want to make sure that the gifts that they receive will not only be fun, but help support their development. I love helping parents realize how toys can be adapted for their children and their difficulties.

When I put together this list each year, it is very important that I gather a variety of toys, games and craft kits that parents can find in local toy stores.  Parents don’t want to buy holiday gifts for their children out of therapeutic catalogs…they want to be able to go into stores and find fun stuff for them. Almost all of the ideas you will find on this list are toys developed for all children that can work on developing a variety of fine motor, visual motor/perceptual and other developmental skills.

I hope that this list proves to be helpful for you all. I had a ton of fun putting it together! At the end of the list, you will find an extensive list of toy stores from around the country. Please remember to support your local toy stores this holiday season. While the convenience of online shopping is tempting, small businesses count on our business.

May your holiday season be happy, healthy and most memorable!

Games and playing games with family and friends can be a seriously beneficial tool.  Not only does it help to develop socialization skills, it encourages executive function skills such as organization, sequencing, focus/attentional and time management. Additionally, game playing can help in developing fine motor, grasping and visual motor/perceptual skills.  I love games that can be adapted up and down to different skill sets and especially love games that are fun and can be played at home to work on various occupational therapy goals.  

Wok and Roll– this is one of my all time favorite games to play with the kids at work.  It can be played individually or with up to 4 kids and can easily be adapted to meet the needs of each child.  For younger children, I let them play without turning it on and having it shake all around.  The older kids love when it shakes, making it much more challenging for them.  The game comes with a bunch of different colored pieces of food in 4 different colors. Using a pair of chopsticks, kids have to find their color food in the wok and place it in the same color bowl.  Great for working on developing fine motor skills such as improving grasp strength and manipulation skills.  Also great for working on eye-hand coordination, visual motor, perceptual and scanning skills.  For the younger kids, you can work on identifying and matching colors.

Whac-A-Mole– who doesn’t love the arcade game Whac-A-Mole?? I’ve been using this game for several years and while there have been a lot of changes (I personally love this version that is no longer made but still sold on some websites), the game is still super motivating for so many kids! This game is great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor/visual perceptual and focus and attentional skills. The most current version is made for 1 or 2 players and when the moles light up or make sounds, you have to hit them.

Scatterpillar Scramble– I love this game for a million reasons.  First of all, I love games that can be adapted to work for different skill levels for the children I work with. While I don’t love battery-operated games, they tend to be better for adapting to different skill sets.  Scatterpillar Scramble is one of those games that you can use while turned on or off and the kids have fun either way.  Each player gets a set of marbles and a pair of tongs. Using the tongs, they have to pick up their marble and put it on the caterpillar’s hands.  For beginners, I keep the game turned off so they don’t get frustrated and give up. As they get used to the game, I turn it on and they have to try and put the marbles in while the caterpillar is dancing.  I can’t tell you how funny the kids think this is and how proud they are when they finally get all those marbles on those moving arms! Great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, focus and attention, visual motor and fine motor skills. Play individually or with up to 4 kids.

Obstacles– I have used Obstacles in both small groups and in my 1:1 sessions. There are a bunch of cards that have barriers/hazards and a bunch of cards that have tools that can be used to overcome those barriers in order to get yourself home. When used individually, I may have my kids who need to work on handwriting write out their thoughts and ideas. When used in a group setting, you can pair kids up to work as a team to come up with the best way to overcome the obstacle with the tool they have. I love games that can be adapted to meet the needs of a particular child and his/her goals and this is definitely one of them. This game will provide hours of entertainment to your child and encourage creativity and problem solving at the same time. Also great for working on collaborative play and compromising with a friend.

Doodle Quest– another great game by Blue Orange Games. There are 36 different cards/challenges to complete.  Each player gets a dry erase marker and a transparent sheet to draw on. A quest card is picked and put in the middle of the table so everyone can see it and each player must complete the drawing challenge making smart visual guesses. After everyone has drawn their picture, they take their transparent sheet and place it on top of the challenge card to see how well they did.  This game is great for older children and works on improving visual spatial skills, problem solving and Doodle Quest is also great for working on fine motor and graphomotor skills. If you are working in a small group, you could pair kids up with each other and have them work together in completing the quest.

Tenzi– this quick moving dice game is one of my favorite games. The object is very simple: each player gets 10 dice and keeps rolling until they have 10 matching dice. If you check out the this part of the Tenzi website, you will see that there are a bunch of other ways to play this game. Great for working on developing fine motor and strengthening skills, improves eye hand coordination and visual motor, perceptual and tracking skills.  It can be played with 2-4 players (or more if you buy more than one set).  

Coloring, Activity and Craft Books

Arts and Crafts
Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics– these craft kits have been on my list for years and each year, they come up with even more sets. They now have sets for girls and boys, little kids and big kids.  There are bracelets, prince and princess crowns, treasure and jewelry boxes and SO much more. Each set comes with different colored square stickers and a guide for what color goes on what number on the empty mosaic grid. These are great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, executive functioning skills such as organization, focus and attention and visual motor, perceptual and tracking skills. Kids love that after a long time of hard work, they get a really cool piece of art to take with them.  This is a highly motivating craft kit that won’t break the bank.

Boogie Board– my daughter was given this a couple of years ago and used it off and on. Now that she is really into practicing writing letters and drawing pictures, this has come out again. The Boogie Board is a thin and light weight LCD writing tablet…think Etch-A-Sketch…that kids can use for school or play. With the push of a button, the screen clears and you can draw something new. It comes with a stylus that attaches to the board so you don’t lose it (It also works with your fingernail if you happen to lose it.) Perfect for long car rides, while waiting between appointments, etc. Great for working on improving graphomotor skills, creative thinking, grasping skills, bilateral coordination and visual motor/perceptual skills.

Foil Art Sets– Peaceable Kingdom has a ton of wonderful products but the Foil Art sets are probably one of my favorites of theirs. They are inexpensive and can be used with kids of all ages. There are sets where you can make your own stickers (great for younger children or kids with decreased attention span) and sets with larger pictures. Each set comes with shiny colored foil that you use to decorate the stickers or pictures. Peel off the top layer of the picture, choose a color and then use your finger to press the foil onto the sticky paper. Great for working on bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills such as improving grasping skills and finger strength.

Loopdeloom Weaving Loom– so many of the kids I work with talk about wanting to learn how to knit but have a difficult time learning and get frustrated. While the Loopdeloom is not a knitting kit, you can use it to make a lot of the same things that you would if you were knitting. This weaving kit is made for older kids and great for working on improving eye-hand coordination, focus and attentional skills, executive functioning skills such as following directions, organization and sequencing and fine motor skills.

Project Kid– this craft book from Park Slope mother of two Amanda Kingloff has a ton of great

projects for your little ones. It shows you how you can build fun and creative things from everyday products you might have in your home. Take spaghetti boxes and turn them into skyscrapers, paper straws and cupcake liners and make a vase full of flowers or turn toilet paper tubes into a train. You can teach your children about recycling while making some really cool crafts that you will all enjoy putting together.

Make Your Own Superhero Cape– who doesn’t love to pretend they are a superhero? This amazing kit comes with all of the necessary supplies, including tips to help you choose your design, to help your child’s inner-superhero come to life!  I have seen this awesome kit at Hiho Batik in Park Slope and other local toy stores.  Great for encouraging creative skills.  Also great for improving fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination, organizational skills and focus and attention.

Goose Grease DIY Peg Dolls– Goose Great dolls are made right here in Brooklyn and you can easily buy a set of these adorable wooden peg dolls or have a set custom made of your family! My favorite thing is that you can also buy a pack of 4 dolls to make your own dolls the way you want to! These DIY kits come complete with wooden dolls, paint, paintbrushes and all the other necessary tools to make your very own dolls.  Great for working on fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, focus and attentional skills and eye-hand coordination.  Also great for improving creative thinking.

Make Your Own Monster– this adorable kit comes with all the necessary supplies to make your own monster. Each kit is unique and comes with a pre-stitched monster, stuffing and felt pieces. No sewing skills required! Great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, organizational skills and improving focus and attention.

Usborne Big Colour By Numbers Book– all of the books by Usborne are wonderfully creative and motivate the kids I work with. This color-by-number book has beautiful pictures and patterns for kids to color in. I like that there are also pages with no numbers and just colored dots for a child to use as a guide. Great for improving visual motor, visual perceptual and visual scanning skills, grasping skills, eye-hand coordination, focus/attentional skills and organizational skills.

Usborne The Big Book of Things to Find and Colour– another great activity book by Usborne. This one is packed with tons of fun pictures.  Each page has directions for things to find and color in. For example, there is a page filled with fairies and you have to find all the ones holding wands and color them in a certain color, find the one with wings and color them in, etc. This highly motivating activity book works on improving visual motor and visual scanning skills, focus and attention, grasping skills and planning and organizational skills.
Lazoo– I adore all the coloring and activity books by Lazoo. So many great ones to choose from that will motivate even the most unwilling kid to pick up a crayon and color. Incredible Stickers, Holes, Squiggles, Let’s Color and Imagine That! stock my shelves at work and at home. Each of the books has a unique quality to them but each work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, helps to encourage imagination and creative thinking, improves grasping and graphomotor skills as well as focus, attentional and organizational skills.

NPW Build your Own Kaleidoscope– this is a simple yet very fun craft kit you can pick up for your little one. My 4 1/2 year old had one this summer and loved it and still plays with it. This kaleidoscope kit comes with all the pieces necessary and takes just a short amount of time to assemble. It comes with beads that you can put in but you can also collect buttons, leaves or flowers to put in as well. The tube can be decorated with stickers or markers which allows a child to be as creative as they want. Kaleidoscopes are great for bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination and sparking a child’s imagination.

Klutz String Art Kit– looking for something fun for an older kid on your list this year?  This string art kit is perfect for those crafty kids. They can create intricate designs and be super creative. They choose a pattern, pin the design and start looping the string around the pegs. It comes with a custom pin-pushing tool that makes sure that pins are in correctly as well as lots of colored string, patterns and a book with detailed instructions. Great for working on fine motor skills, improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and working on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, following directions and organizational skills.

Building Blocks/Manipulatives

Blocks and manipulative toys are great for so many reasons.  First of all, they stimulate creative and imaginative play.  They also encourage social interaction and cooperative play when used in group settings. As far as occupational therapy skills, they can be used to work on a million things including bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, focus and attention and fine motor skills such as hand strength and increasing in-hand manipulation skills. I love that these toys can be used in a therapeutic setting and then brought into the home so families can have fun with their kids while working on the skills that we are focusing on during our sessions.  Check out my list below and have fun building and creating!

Tegu Blocks– these blocks are one of my absolute favorite gifts to give kids. I have had these in my own home since my daughter could sit up and play with toys. These wooden blocks have a magnet inside so they can stick to each other. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and now there are sets available where you can build cars and robots. I love that any age child can be successful when using the blocks. Great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, problem solving and imaginative play.  Can be played with independently or in a group. If you are in Park Slope, check out the toy store Norman & Jules who has the best selection of Tegu Blocks in NYC! During the summer, they have an outdoor space with a giant board to allow kids to make some of the coolest Tegu Block designs! (See picture below.)

MagnaTiles– these have been on my list year after year. These plastic tiles have magnets build into them so they can stick together to build 2-D and 3-D creations. They are great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills. They come in a variety of shapes and colors so you can work on color and shape recognition when using them. Additionally, Magna-Tiles help promote imaginative play and creativity. Children can play with them independently or in small groups to work on encouraging teamwork and compromise. Magna-Tiles are pricey but they will last you forever since they are so durable and well made. I have had the same set of Magna-Tiles in my office for at least 6 years and they look as new as they did when I first bought them and they have literally been used by hundreds of kids.

Ogobild Bits– I discovered this Brooklyn-based company last holiday season when I saw them at one of the many amazing holiday markets all over the city. If you have kids who love building, but you have enough Lego sets, this is a great gift for them! There are small and large sets and each comes with a bunch of suggested items to build. Great for working on building a child’s imagination skills while building the muscles of the hands! I have used them in my social-skills group both with preschoolers and school-age kids and they had an absolute blast. Ogobild with Animate Studio kits are great for your older kids who may be interested in learning more about stop motion animation moviemaking.
They boost strength and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills. These are super durable building toys that you will have for years and years to come. OgoSports keeps expanding this line and have a bunch of new ones this year.

LaQ– I discovered this awesome manipulative building set this summer after a trip to The Bronx Zoo. For the Lego lovers, this is another great toy. These are actually flat shapes that snap together to make a ton of different shapes. For tons of different patterns to make cars, animals, people, etc., using these different shaped blocks, clink here. My kids love them and I don’t see them getting too frustrated when it gets difficult to follow the directions. Better suited for the older kids I work with (often too difficult for the preschoolers, especially those with fine motor difficulties).

Lego Duplo Read and Build- Legos seem to be another one of those toys that never get old. When I discovered the Lego Duplo Read and Build Sets, I was so excited. These sets are perfect for those smaller hands that have difficulty with the small size Legos. The accompanying instructions are great because they give very clear visuals on how to build the different objects (jungle and farm animalsbugs/caterpillar, a fairy tale and a car set) in the book. This requires a child to organize their work, plan what they are doing and follow visual directions. Great for working on improving grasp strength and bilateral coordination skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. I love that kids have to follow along with the story while building the different objects which works on focus and attentional skills.

Pencil Grip Popbeads– I love these small popbeads! They are great for working on increasing grasp strength and bilateral coordination skills. These popbeads are bright in color and the kids love them. For younger kids working on identifying colors, you can use these to work on that. Also great for working on visual perceptual skills such as matching and sequencing.

Hugs Links– these well made linking toys are great for kids as young as 3 months and as old as 3 years. What you work on while playing with them at different ages is different, but they are versatile and well made. B.Toys created a set of 24 colorful links that click together to build a rattle for the younger ones or a chain for the older ones. Great for developing bilateral coordination, fine motor skills and upper extremity strength.

Squigz/Squigz Benders/pipSquigz– these manipulative toys by Fat Brain Toys will bring hours of fun to your little ones! Actually, you will love playing with them as much as your kids do! These suction cup connecting toys will stick to each other and to almost any surface. Use them in the bathtub or on your child’s highchair. You can push them together and pull them apart to make wonderful creations to stimulate your children’s imagination skills. The kids get a real kick out of the sound that they make when they pop apart! They are also great for working on hand strengthening, bilateral coordination and eye hand coordination. Check out the different sets available to see which is best for your little one.

Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Skills
In order for children to have success in many school-related activities (reading, writing, math, etc.), they must have adequate visual skills. They must be able to coordinate their eyes and their hands at the same time, be able to visually track from their paper to the board and be able to look and interpret what they see. The toys in this section are fun games and toys that will help children work on improving their visual skills. They can be played independently, with a friend or as a family.  

MindWare Imaginets– this magnetic tangram set comes with brightly colored magnetic blocks in a variety of shapes and colors and 50 different designs to copy. The level of difficulty increases the higher the number on the card is. Everything can be easily and neatly stored in a case with a magnetic/dry erase board. I love the dry erase board feature because after the kids copy the design successfully, you can have them draw a scene or even practice writing what they drew. Great for working on improving fine motor skills, eye hand coordination, problem solving, visual motor, visual perceptual and visual tracking skills.

Monkey Magnets– last year, I took a group of kids to the Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan. There were a lot of great things about this experience but what I loved the most was the wall of magnetic monkeys, rabbits and dinosaurs that you could spend hours playing with. I was thrilled that you were able to buy the set of 6 monkeys in their gift shop, and bought several for work and for home. These have since had a permanent home on my fridge and are used at work all the time. These super well made and durable magnetic monkeys can be connected to make a circle or a bunch of other images. They’re great for improving problems solving as well as visual motor, visual motor and visual spatial skills. I like to have kids work together to put them together so work on improving teamwork and social skills.

Spot It!– I’ve been using the original Spot It! and Spot It Jr! for several years and am thrilled at how this game has evolved the last couple of years.  Blue Orange Games continues to find ways to make this game new and fresh for children of all ages. In short, all Spot It! games have a stack of round cards with several pictures on them. There is always one matching letter, picture, shape, word, etc. between two cards. Even when you think there is no chance that there is a match, there is! This game is great for working with kids 1:1 or in a small group. You can now choose between some of your favorite Disney characters or sports. Great for working on focus and attention, visual motor, visual perceptual and visual tracking skills and social skills. The alphabet and number sets are great for working on letter and number recognition and when I am playing this game during my sessions, I will have the kids write out the letters or numbers that they match.

Eeboo Felt Mosaics– this tangram like game is one of my favorites for the older kids on my caseload. It comes with a bunch of bright-colored felt triangles and a series of cards with pictures to make using those triangles. It sounds easy, but for children with visual motor/perceptual difficulties, this can be quite the challenge. I find that the kids like the bright colors and the fun pictures. In addition to having the kids make the designs shown on the cards, you can have kids work on improving their creativity by making their own designs using the triangles. Great for working on improving visual skills, eye-hand coordination, focus and attention, fine motor skills and bilateral coordination.

Tiggly Shapes and Tiggly Counts– Tiggly is a New-York based company that has created interactive toys and apps for preschoolers and school-age children.   There are a series of motivating and hands on apps that help to develop spatial reasoning, motor skills, language and creativity. Also great for working on shape recognition, eye-hand coordination and focus and attentional skills.  The kids I work with love to play these games, especially Tiggly Safari and Tiggly Chef.

Eeboo Puzzles– you’d be surprised how hard it is to find durable puzzles that will withstand the abuse of kids, so when I discovered the amazing collection of puzzles by Eeboo, I was thrilled. There are a variety to choose from, but my favorite is this set of 6, 9-piece interlocking puzzles which are perfect for young kids who have graduated from inset puzzles and are ready for the challenge of interlocking puzzles. Puzzles are great for working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills as well as improving bilateral coordination, focus and attentional skills. Eeboo has puzzles as few as 2 and as large as 100-pieces so there is a perfect puzzle for everyone on your list this year!

Osmo Play– Osmo is a unique gaming accessory made for the iPad. Using a mirror that you snap over the iPad camera, children can interact with the apps in a very tactile manner. Each Osmo set comes with a base, reflective mirror and 3 different interactive and educational games. I love the Tangram app and the kids I work with have loved this one as well. It’s been awesome to watch kids who struggle with visual skills be successful with this particular game. The Words game has varying levels and can really motivate kids who are having a difficult time with reading and spelling. One of my favorite things about this is that it helps my older children work on problem solving and organizational skills. When the creators of Osmo came out with this product, they intended for it to not only be an activity that could be done 1:1 but in small groups and classrooms to work on improving social skills.

Sensory Play/Tactile Toys
Sensory play is important for all children. Tactile toys are ones that children touch, manipulate and explore by stretching them, pulling/pinching and squishing/squeezing them. These actions help to stimulate sensors deep within the muscle joints that encourages an increased sense of body awareness. Good body awareness allows a child to not only have a better sense of their bodies and emotions but of those around them.  

Kinetic Sand– I am always on the lookout for fun materials to bring to work to play with with my kids. While visiting my local toy store several months ago, I saw they had a tray of sand sitting out on the shelves. I put my hands in this magical stuff and have been obsessed ever since with Kinetic Sand by WABA Fun. Simply put, Kinetic Sand is an easy to shape sand that kids can use to mold into objects, flatten out and use cookie cutters to make different shapes or hide treasures inside for kids to search for. It sounds like it would be a messy activity, but the way it is made allows for the sand to stick together and allow for easy cleanup. Great for decreasing tactile sensitivity, working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination.  
Bubber– another great product by WABA Fun. Bubber is a lightweight colorful molding compound that children can use to mold into shapes and objects. Several colors to choose from that can be mixed and matched. Since it is so soft, you can use stamps and different tools (forks, playdough toys, etc.) as well to come up with some pretty cool designs.
WikkiStix– I’ve had these in my work closet for years and kids still love them. WikkiStix are wax-covered pieces of yarn that can be manipulated to make just about anything your imagination can come up with. They can be twisted or pinched together and then easily pulled apart so they can be used over and over again. I love using them to practice making shapes, letters and numbers. Sometimes kids are more motivated to learn these things when it’s more tactile and more of a hands-on experience. In addition to being able to buy packs of just WikkiStix, you can buy kits with different cards that the kids can put the WikkiStix on. Great for improving tactile sensitivity, grasping skills, bilateral coordination and encouraging imaginative play.

Bristle Blocks- B.Toys has this amazing tub of brightly colored blocks that will encourage your kid to play and build for hours. This 68-piece set comes with a booklet of building ideas for your little ones. The chunky pieces are easy to connect and can work on so many developmental skills. Great for improving bilateral coordination, grasping, grasp strengthening, problem solving and creative skills.

Jelly BeadZ Water Beads– when I put together my list last year, one of my former clients gave me a challenge to find these beads that expand when put in water. I found them and now they are one of my favorite things to play with at home and at work. Water beads come in a variety of colors (my favorite is the rainbow pack) and start off as super small beads. Take a tablespoon or so of them and put them in a bowl of water and watch them expand to the size of marbles. Don’t put more than a tablespoon of these in a bowl or they will spill out of it! These are great for sensory exploration and decreasing tactile sensitivity. If you are working with younger children, you can put measuring cups and spoons in the bowl and have them work on bilateral coordination skills while playing with the beads.

eco-dough and eco-finger painteco-kids, a small company based out of Portland, Maine, has a wonderful selection of art supplies for children. The best part: they use all-natural ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging.  eco-dough  (there is also a gluten free option!) comes in beautiful colors and is great for working on increasing grasp strength, manipulation skills and decreasing tactile defensive behaviors. Each package contains 5 colors and the top of each container can be used as a stamp!  eco-finger paint is powder based paint. Each package comes with enough powder to make 60 oz. of finger paint and comes in 5 beautiful colors. Whether your child uses their fingers or a paintbrush, this is a great way to get the creative juices flowing! Also great for working on visual motor skills and decreasing tactile defensiveness in kids.
**you can shop for this online but I have seen a lot of the eco-kids products in many of the local toy stores in Brooklyn, including Norman and Jules and Hiho Batik.

Gross Motor/Outdoor Play
Gross motor play is play that makes children use the bigger muscles in their body and encourages them to walk, run or jump around their environment. I’ve chosen a handful of toys that will work on building trunk control/strength, upper body strength, motor coordination and endurance.  

Balance Board– there are a lot of different balance boards out there but I find that many of them are too challenging for my younger kids. This one is great because it can be flipped over and can be made more or less challenging for children. I find this is a great therapy tool that parents can use at home to carry over some of the things I work on at the gym such as balance, coordination and focus/attention. I love to pair it with a fine motor activity such as a puzzle or a gross motor activity such as playing catch.  Kids love it and it is small enough to slip under a bed and not take up a lot of space.

OgoSport Super Sports Disk– there are several different sized disks to choose from so they can be used with children (and grownups too) of all ages. Each set comes with two hand-trampoline disks and a koosh-like ball to bounce back and forth to your partner. If you have more than one set, you can add more people! The disks are super lightweight because they are made of foam which makes it easy for kids to hold onto. Can be played with indoors and outdoors. Great for working on eye-hand coordination, social interaction, focus and attention and regulation skills.

Kick Scooter- many of my NYC families use a stroller for their older children to get to and from places faster but are wondering what they can get that will get their kids more physical. One of the first things I recommend for them to get is the Mini Kick (for children 2-5 years of age) or the Maxi Kick scooter (5 years and older). This lightweight scooter is easy for kids to use because of the two wheels in front and the one in back. By leaning to one side or another, a child is able to easily steer (mostly to avoid hitting other human beings!).  Great for working on motor planning and coordination, bilateral coordination, body strength and focus and attentional skills. For those kids who have a hard time warming up in the morning and are close enough to school, I suggest having them scoot to school to wake up the body to make the morning transitions easier.  

Zoom Ball– I remember using a Zoom Ball as a kid and loving it. As a therapist, I love it even more because there is a tremendous amount of therapeutic value. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, let me describe: there is a lightweight ball attached to two ropes with hands. Each person grabs one side/two handles and let the play begin. By opening and closing your arms, the ball can slide back and forth. Go as fast or as slow as you want but see how long you can keep it going without having to take a break. Great for working on building upper body strength, motor planning/
coordination, modulation and regulation and cooperative play.  

Stomp Rocket-kids LOVE playing with stomp rockets. After the kids place the foam rocket on a tube they jump on the launch pad and it shoots off.  This is a great toy for working on jumping, balancing on one foot and building body strength. I love this toy because it is non-battery operated and doesn’t make a ton of noise.  

Hop & Squeak Pogo Jumper– this kid-friendly pogo jumper is made out of durable foam and has a built in squeaker that squeaks every time a child jumps up and down. The bungee cord handle has a comfortable grip for the kids to hold onto. Great for working on improving trunk control/strength and motor planning. Also great for providing proprioceptive input to kids which helps with improving focus and attentional skills. Can be used indoors and outdoors and ideal for kids 3 and older.  

Babies and Toddlers
I know that when I had my own child, finding toys that were meaningful and developmentally appropriate could be quite difficult. I wanted to be sure that I found toys that would encourage her to interact with her environment and other people, but would also help develop critical fine motor, sensory and visual motor/perceptual skills. While toys have changed a lot in the last 4 years, I still look for the same characteristics in toys when buying for friends’ kids or when making suggestions to the families I work with. Since I know that these toys end up being used for a short period of time, I have attempted to make suggestions that don’t cost much and will withstand the wear and tear of the most wild toddlers!


Skip*Hop Hedgehog Accordion– looking for something fun for a toddler in your life? Skip*Hop continues to make wonderful toys for kids and I love this accordion for your 12-month-old (or older) child. Its easy-to-grab handles are perfect for little hands and encourages them to use two hands at the same time. One of my favorite features is that the movable beads are not only great for exploring but for relieving some discomfort your little one might be experiencing because of teething. 

Skip*Hop Roll Around Rattles– just voted Toy of the Year by Parents Magazine, these roll around rattles encourage a baby to interact and play with a toy. The rattle is made of flexible materials with easy-to-grasp openings that help little hands build dexterity. Like many of the Skip*Hop developmental toys, there are beads to manipulate (great for fine motor skills) that are good for teething.  Great for encouraging little ones to crawl or walk when across a room! (See picture below.)

Press’n Play Zoom Zoom Buggy-this adorable little caterpillar toy is perfect for encouraging early crawlers and walkers. It’s great for developing an understanding of cause and effect and building eye-hand coordination skills.

Snap ‘n Style Dolls– these adorable dolls (there are 4 to choose from) have snap-on clothes that can be mixed and matched between all of the dolls. Great for working on fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.  Each doll comes with a brush so you can comb their hair which is great for working on bilateral coordination!

Snap-Lock Caterpillar– pop beads are pretty much the best toy that I know of for most toddlers. Not only are they great for working on grasping and bilateral coordination, they are great for working on developing early problem-solving skills. I love this particular set because each bead has a different texture, color and sound so it stimulates a baby/toddler’s sensory system.

Parum Pum Pum Instrument Set– there is nothing like music and instruments to get kids moving and shaking. There are so many benefits of introducing and encouraging your kids to use musical instruments at an early age. First of all, they help to develop an understanding of cause and effect. A well made instrument will work with little effort put forth by a child. Secondly, when used with young children, they will help develop fine motor and bilateral coordination skills. Lastly, playing with musical instruments help to stimulate the sensory system and works on building upper body strength. This set by B. Toys is spectacular (as are all of their products) and one that I can see the whole family playing with together.

H2-Whoa!– another amazing toy by B. Toys. This drawing board is a perfect gift for your budding artist. The two-sided drawing board comes with 4 pens that are stored in the board. It doesn’t require a lot of strength or pressure for your littlest one to be able to use this toy. Works on developing pre-writing/drawing skills for babies and toddlers. The best part about this drawing board is that you can use it over and over again!  Great for working on developing eye-hand coordination and grasping skills.

Radio Flyer Classic Walker Wagon– lots of the walker toys out there come with so many bells and whistles that they end up distracting the kids I work with from using them properly. The physical therapists in the gym that I work in highly recommend the Radio Flyer Walker/Wagon and in turn, so have I. They like that it is sturdy and has the wagon in front so you can weigh it down for those kids who may need to be slowed down a bit.

Small Stuff/Stocking Stuffers
Some of the hardest gifts to find are those small ones that you need to fill the stocking, advent calendar or to cover the 8 nights of Hanukkah. These are actually some of my most favorite gifts to look for and share with people. These gifts are the ones that kids tend to use the most because they can be thrown in a backpack when traveling, used while sitting in a doctor’s office or between therapy sessions.  

Discovery Putty– it’s rare for me to suggest a toy from a therapeutic catalogue, so you have to understand the aweseomeness of this product for it to make the cut. Discovery Putty is the best….THE BEST! Kids at my gym LOVE it and don’t even understand that they are working on SO many occupational therapy goals when playing with it. I’ve spent my career hiding things in theraputty to work on increasing grasp strength. Kids got bored pretty quickly with the coins I would stick in the putty. When I found Discovery Putty things changed. Kids love looking through the putty to find the different treats or animals hidden inside. Rumor has it that there are two new putties coming out soon and I can’t wait! In addition to working on increasing grasp strength and fine motor skills, Discovery Putty works on improving bilateral coordination skills,
focus and attention and language skills (identifying what they have discovered in the putty).

Crayon Stylus– this stylus is great for your little ones. My preschool age children love using this stylus when using the iPad. Even with my littlest kids, I try and use a stylus whenever we use the iPad in order to practice using a proper grip on writing instruments. Kids seem to be much less resistant when it is a fun-looking stylus like this red crayon.

Retro Pen Stylus– I use the iPad a lot during my therapy sessions, especially for working on handwriting with my older kids. I was psyched to find these mini stylus pens a few weeks ago at a local bookstore. These pens are a perfect size for encouraging a proper grasp. I really love that I can easily transition from working on writing letters with my kids on the iPad to paper when using this pen!

Magiclip Princess Dolls– looking for something small and magical that will be sure to make your princess-loving kids happy? Magiclip dolls are one of the most popular toys in my office. Each doll comes with a dress that comes on and off by pinching the bottom of the dress. There are several princesses and to choose from and all the dresses fit on all the other dolls. Great for working on fine motor skills such as improving grasp strength, bilateral coordination and manipulation skills.

PopToobs– PopToobs or rapper snappers, whatever you call them, they are awesome! I have been using these since I started my career as an occupational therapist. They are great for working on improving grasp strength, bilateral coordination and motor planning skills.  Kids love them for their bright colors and the fun sounds they make as you pull them apart and push them together.

ZooSticks– I have been using these kid-friendly chopsticks for years. Not only are they great for motivating picky eaters to eat (they love using them to pick up their food), they are great for increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills. I like to have kids pick up small items using the chopsticks. They especially love when I have little squishy animals for them to “rescue”. These come in a variety of animals, including sea creatures and farm animals.

Sticker Puzzles– one of my favorite finds this year, Lee Publications has a ton of different sticker puzzle books featuring your children’s favorite characters. Each book comes with 8 different puzzles and your child has to place the numbered stickers on a numbered grid to complete the picture. Some of the puzzles have as few as 9 stickers and as many as 48 stickers, so you can find one that is best for your child. Great for learning, identifying and matching numbers as well as improving fine motor skills such as grasping and manipulation skills. Also great for improving bilateral coordination, visual tracking/perceptual skills and focus and attention.

Eeboo Pipe Cleaners– I was on the hunt for different colored and textured pipe cleaners for a Halloween project and found these pipe cleaners by Eeboo. Each set comes with 36 pipe cleaners in 3 different colors and 4 different sizes. They come in a ton of colors and my favorite thing is that each set also comes with a simple project on the back that your child can do. Pipe cleaners are also great for teaching children how to string beads when they are struggling with using a flimsy string.

Slingshot– not for the faint of heart and definitely targeted towards the older and more responsible of kids you are giving gifts to, this slingshot by Hella Slingshots are an awesome gift! It’s important to note that this is not a toy and something to be played with responsibly. I highly recommend the felt slingshot ammo when using this beautifully made tool. This is great for working on fine motor skills, improving eye hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and motor planning. It should be used while supervised for younger kids and never used as a weapon ;)! My daughter and husband loved setting up targets and knocking them down together; I loved how they talked before doing it and making a plan to knock their targets down. If you are in the area (Park Slope), be sure to stop at Norman & Jules and pick up your very own!

Crayons/Pencils-good crayons make a big difference when coloring. Some of my favorites are the ones made by P’kolino. These Triangle Crayons are the perfect size and shape for encouraging a proper grasp.  The shape is also great for keeping them from rolling off the table. This Hexagon Colored Pencil set is unique because unlike other pencils they are made of 100% color so the whole thing can be used; I especially love that you don’t have to worry about finding a pencil sharpener when the tip breaks!  Eco-Crayons are designed to look like sea rock from the coast of Maine. They are made out of natural wax and mineral pigments. The shape of these crayons helps encourage a more appropriate grasp.

Made in New York
This section is a shoutout to some of my favorite Brooklyn-based companies.  They are unique and have a great story.  They may not be therapeutic, but they are special to me and wanted to give them a little love! 

Marbelous Jewelry– this company holds a big place in my heart. Started in 2013 by two of my the most special now-10-year-olds, Marblelous necklaces are one-of-a-kind handmade pieces. My favorite part: a portion of each necklace sold goes to charities such as Heeling Autism (a nonprofit that places guide dogs with children with autism) and Every Mother Counts (a charity devoted to global maternal health and welfare).

Snuggly Ugly– these adorable monster and rag dolls are created by Brooklyn mom and artist, Indira Villalobos-Starr. Each doll and monster are made by recycling cashmere sweaters! There are adorable outfits that you can purchase to dress and undress your rag doll. My daughter especially loves the beautiful tutu outfit for her doll.

Loopy Mango– I am a huge knitter and know so many of the kids I work with would love to be able to knit. However, due to fine motor, organizational or sensory processing difficulties, this ends up being a difficult thing to teach them. Loopy Mango, a New York City based company, has created this easy-to-knit Finger Tassel kit and you can pick up your very own at Norman & Jules in Park Slope. The set comes complete with all you need and the easy to follow online tutorial will help your child make a beautiful scarf in just about 15 minutes that will make them burst with pride after completing!

iPad Apps
I love using the iPad during my therapy sessions.  I don’t use it alone, but find it to be a truly motivating tool, especially for things like handwriting, learning letters and drawing pictures.  I don’t want to say that using the iPad is the end-all-be-all of therapy, but my kids work harder and when used in conjunction with more hands-on experiences, like paper and pencils, I find that progress is seen faster. Lately, I have found more apps that focus on improving fine motor skills such as pinching, grasping, etc. Here are just a few of my- I mean the kids’- favorites!
Pepi Tree– I find myself playing this app every once in a while without any kids around. The animals are so cute and I love that you can work on improving fine motor, visual motor and sensory-processing skills while also working on building language skills.

Bugs and Buttons/Bugs and Buttons 2– Little Bit Studio offers some of the finest apps out there. The best part is that each of their apps contains 18 fun and motivating games that work on a variety of educational games. My kids don’t tire of these apps and since there are so many games available, you can go weeks without repeating a game!

Bugs and Bubbles– Another amazing app by Little Bit Studio. Honestly, I can’t get enough of this app and can’t believe how many occupational therapy goals can be addressed when using it.

Face iMake ABC– This app provides users with a great way to learn the ABCs and work on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and matching skills. iMagineMachine outdid themselves with this app. Be sure to check out their link here because there are plenty of other amazing apps to choose from that will not only entertain but educate your children.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App– Not only great for working on OT skills, but my speech therapy friends love using this entertaining app to work on language skills with the kids on their caseload. Totally worth the more expensive price tag than I normally pay for a single app.

Lazoo Apps– There are five apps by this brilliant company. Many of them are free and the ones that cost anything are well worth the small price tag!
Pinch Peeps– A great, free app. It’s perfect for older children who need to work on finger strength and grasping skills. The more peeps you pinch, the more challenges you face so it keeps a child on their toes and maintaining their attention.

Dexteria Jr.- A great app that works on improving fine motor skills in preschool-age children (although many of the older children I work with love it as well). This app is so much fun that the kids don’t even realize they are working!

DoodlecastSago Mini– Offers an amazingly creative and fun line of apps for toddlers and preschoolers. I am a tremendous fan of Doodlecast, but my 4 1/2 year old daughter just loves all of their apps that we have on our iPad.

Toca Boca– I really love their line of apps. In fact, it’s hard to have any self-control when looking through their amazing selection. They’re highly motivating and educational apps that will provide entertainment for all family members. My favorites (and it is really difficult to choose) are Paint My Wings, Toca House and Toca Cars.

NYC Area Toy Stores

I say this on each and every blog post, but it is more important to me this time of the year: shop small business when possible. Support those local toy and book stores near you. These people work so hard and provide so much to your neighborhoods. Here are a few of the local small businesses that I support throughout the year in NYC:

Norman and Jules– Park Slope, Brooklyn. This is a beautiful toy store located in the heart of Park Slope with the most amazing selection of wooden toys and games. One of my favorite things about this store is that there is almost nothing in the store that requires batteries. Owners Courtney and Avi do a tremendous amount of research to get the best of the best in there and are always willing to help a customer find the perfect gift.

Hiho Batik– in addition to being a great place to take your kids to visit their batik studio (make shirts, dresses, sweatshirts, etc.), Hiho Batik located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has a great selection of gifts in their store. I love their selection of DIY craft kits.

Little Things– Park Slope, Brooklyn. Two locations: one dedicated to Lego, arts and crafts and seasonal items, while other has dolls, games, baby toys, etc.  A true go-to store for all your holiday shopping!

Acorn– This small toy store has a beautiful selection of wooden toys, doll houses and dolls.  If you are looking for a special toy for a special person in your life, this is a perfect place to check out.

Mary Arnold Toys– Located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This store has a friendly staff who are more than happy to help you find the right toy for your child. Great selection of toys.  I really like their section that features seasonal toys.

Stationery Toy World– I have worked on the Upper West Side for 10 years now and have been shopping in this store for just as long. The owner, Donna, is incredibly helpful and dedicated to keeping the most popular items in stock. If you need suggestions on what to buy for a particular child, she will help you out. You may pay more here than on Amazon, but the customer service is unbeatable.

Kidding Around– A great toy store with locations in both Chelsea and Grand Central Station. There is a wonderful selection of games, puzzles, arts and crafts supplies and all other play essentials. I have always found the staff to be friendly and helpful when looking for gifts.

Greenlight Bookstore– Fort Greene, Brooklyn. An awesome selection of kid’s books. I never leave this store without something wonderful!

A Time for Children– Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, A Time for Children is owned and operated by a NYC-based philanthropy and donates 100% of its profits to The Children’s Aid Society. Here you will find a special selection of toys, clothes and gifts.

Toy Stores Outside of NYC Suggested by Others
Magic Beans– Four locations in the Boston area.  Independently owned and operated by parents. They have a wide selection of baby, toddler, kid and educational toys.

Little Village Toy & Book Shop– Littleton, NH is one of my favorite towns and one of my favorite stores was the book store that closed last year. I was thrilled to find out that a few months after the bookstore closed, someone decided to open up a new kids book and toy store.  I’ll be heading north in a few weeks and can’t wait to check out this awesome store in person!

Animal Instinct– Ogunquit, Maine. I hit this toy store up every summer on vacation. There is a great selection of toys, games, puzzles and books. I am a bit of a sucker for their Maine/Moose section when you first walk into the store!

Mom and Pop Place- Neenah, Wisconsin. This is a natural-parenting store and baby store featuring wooden toys, cloth diapers and other baby essentials.

Go Bananas– There are two locations in Loudon County, Virginia, about 30 miles west of Washington DC. It’s an award-winning family-owned and operated specialty toy and gift store for children.

Fun Stuff Toys– Seaford, New York. Specializing in kids’ toys, here you can shop for creative, educational, developmental games, puzzles and specialty toys.

Whirlygigs– Exeter, NH. A classic shop from the past packed with toys of every kind. From the latest craze to the classic toys you grew up with, they can help you find what you are looking for.

Matty’s Toy Stop– Nassau County, Long Island, New York. With multiple locations, this store offers a great selection of kids toys, educational items, learning and fun toys for all ages.

The Acorn Store-Santa Monica, California. There is a beautiful selection of wooden and imaginative toys for children from birth to school age.

Wonderland– Brentwood, California. A magical placed filled with quality treasures and gifts that will satisfy the fun inside of you all! They scour the planet for unique, specialty toys that will be fun and educational for all kids.

JennyBec’s-Brentwood, California.  From books, toys, games, furniture, wall art and fine linens, you will find all you want from newborn through tween.  They pride themselves on being able to provide practically any gift, toy or furnishing!

Growing Tree Toys– State College, PA.  They offer a quality selection of educational toys to aid child creativity and intellectual growth.

Oliver’s Trains & Toys– Evanston, Illinois.  A small, family operated toy store in the suburbs of Chicago. This store offers a wonderful selection of trains and educational toys.

Becky & Me Toys– Evanston, Illinois.  Becky was a teacher with 15 years of early childhood experience.  Here they try out the toys, play the games and read the books before they put them out on the shelves of their store.  They are constantly looking for new companies and products that have value to all the children who walk in their door.

Creative Kidstuff– Twin Cities, MN.  This store specialized in creative, innovative and educational toys.  They have a staff full of knowledgeable and kind-hearted people who truly love kids.

A2Z Science & Learning Store– located in downtown Northampton, MA, this toy store is filled with educational toys, skill toys, construction toys, flying toys, books, games, minerals and fossils.

The Toy Box– Amherst, MA. This store has a dynamic environment where kids and adults are encouraged to play! They pride themselves on their high level of service and hand-picked products.

***I would love to add to this list, so if you have any other suggestions of great toy stores in your neck of the woods, please let me know.  I am a click away and would love nothing more than to generate a list of small, independent and specialty toy stores that we can all support***

I hope that you find this list helpful and that there is something special for the little (or not so little) people in your lives.  If you have anything you would like me to add to the list, please let me know. I am always looking for new toys and products to motivate the kids I work with to learn and gain new skills. Email me and I will add to this list. I know there are a million other great things out there and I look forward to hearing about them from you.

Each year, I try and add new things to my list but many make the list year after year. However, there are so many other great toys and activities out there for you to know about. Please check out my previous years’ lists if you need or want additional ideas:

2013 Holiday Gift Guide
2012 Holiday Gift Guide
2011 Holiday Gift Guide

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