2019 Holiday Gift Guide-Social Emotional Toys

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One of the most important shifts I have witnessed in my career as on occupational therapist is the increased focus and attention put into social emotional development in children as young as preschool. While always an important issue, there has been a lot of research done in the last few years that show that teaching social emotional intelligence at an early age help children become more successful as they get older. With this increased attention to social emotional learning, there has also been an uprise in the products available to young children that help facilitate a better understanding of feelings, emotions, empathy and self-awareness.
In this portion of my 2019 Holiday Gift Guide, I share some of the amazing products out there that can help children learn about feelings and emotions, learn about empathy and kindness while working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and can build confidence and self-esteem. 

Build a Robot Emotional Developmental Toy-teaching kids about emotions can be difficult, especially in the moment when they are feeling big feelings. This educational robot toy not only works on helping children learn about emotions but helps with developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills. This robot comes with one body and four interchangeable heads with different emotions. Great to use with young children when talking about their feelings. I love how each of the heads is a different shape and offers a variety of tactile experiences.

Emojinks Emoji Card GamesI have been a big Spot It fan for years and years and now that I run a social skills group, I tend to try and find games that have some kind of social emotional learning component. So try and imagine how happy Emojinks makes me! Very similar to Spot It, Emojinks is a game of speed where you try and be the first to find the matching Emoji. The nice thing about this game is that there are two different levels, beginner and advanced, so you can use it will all members of your family. Another great thing, the game is compact and easy to take on-the-go for non-screen-time entertainment. Emojinks is perfect to help your children learn about feelings and emotions while also working on developing focus, attention, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills and visual tracking skills, improves fine motor and manipulation skills and works on social skills such as being a good winner/loser, taking turns and being flexible.

Make A Face-I first learned about this social emotional toy from my friends at Norman and Jules in Park Slope and fell in love with it immediately. Make A Face is a beautiful wooden toy that helps children create hundreds of expressions. Kids can use this 9-piece set to not only work on learning about emotions, feelings and expressions but also work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills. This toy shows kids how a simple change in the eye or mouth positioning can change the way someone sees them and makes them think about what they are feeling. While this toy was originally created for free play, Moon Picnic has realized that they could do more with it and have created a set of free downloadable flash cards that can add to the importance of playing with this toy.

eeBoo Pretend Play Stickers-pretend play is critical for the development of a variety of social skills. Through cooperative pretend play, children learn how to take turns, share responsibility, creatively problem-solve, be flexible with friends and can encourage creativity and imagination skills. I discovered the eeBoo Pretend Play Stickers last year and thought how awesome it was that these reusable stickers could be used with cardboard boxes (and we know how many of these we accumulate over the holiday season) and instantly transform them into a kitchen, spaceship or a car. Each set comes with four giant sheets of reusable stickers that will turn a plain cardboard box into a prop for kids to spend hours playing with. Not only are these great for developing social skills, they are great for working on developing fine motor and grasping skills and improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills. 

Penny For Your Thoughts Games-this is an amazing game that includes 80 hand-illustrated cards that were designed to increase connection between kids and adults, encourage more positive ways to communicate feelings and teach social and emotional skills that lead to success at home, school and various environments with friends. Using the cards, kids identify how they are feeling, other people who may be involved and learn to problem solve on how to get through some really challenging situations and deal with big feelings. 

Silly Street-this game began as a Kickstarter project a few years ago and I was really excited about. Silly Street helps children with developing social and communication skills, encourages creativity and builds confidence and resilience all through play! As an occupational therapist, I love how they have also incorporated ways to work on developing fine motor and grasping skills and improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills. I also love that this is a multi-sensory game that gets kids up and moving and encourages them to get their sillies out while building confidence, creativity, empathy, flexibility and resilience.

Lion In My Way-in this cooperative game by eeBoo, players work together to help the lion who is on a journey overcome hazards and barriers. By using a variety of objects, kids have to decide which one would be best to help the lion stay on his way. There are a tremendous amount of benefits from exposing children to cooperative games. First of all, by elimination the competition, the pressure of having to be the winner is taken away. These kinds of games also encourage kids to problem-solve together, accept ideas from others and be flexible in their thinking. Lastly, this game is great for encouraging communication skills with peers.

The Calm Mind Kit-I have been a fan of Rose and Rex for years and years so when I heard they were developing their very own product that worked on mindfulness and meditation, I was completely sold. This amazingly thought out kit was designed for children as young as 3 years old and can be used by grownups as well. The kit teaches techniques that can help people who are feeling anxious, have difficulty staying still and a variety of other common emotional struggles. This kit was thoughtfully created by childhood development and wellness experts to provide children with a variety of tools for emotional development and well-being that will help them learn now to focus, self-regulate and most importantly, build confidence and self-esteem. This well-crafted kit contains three handcrafted toys and a deck of beautifully illustrated Calm Mind Activity Cards that teach people how to use the tools provided. As an occupational therapist, I love how this kit helps children get into the right state of mind to work on more stressful or challenging activities by providing them with the tools. 

Feelings and Emotions Peg Doll Set-I love when a simple toy can help children develop a deeper understanding of their own emotions. This beautiful set of feeling peg dolls are perfect for pretend play while also helping children gain a better understanding of feelings and emotions. Included with the set are 5 birch discs with the feelings sad, calm, angry, happy and worried etched on them so kids can work on being able to match and discuss these emotions. These can be perfectly matched with the Hope Learning Toys The Friend Ship which is another beautiful homemade product that was developed to help children learn about their feelings. 

The Unworry Book-unfortunately, there are too many children who have a hard time talking about their feelings and anxieties. Having an outlet to express these feelings can be incredibly helpful for children (and their parents). The Unworry Book is filled with amazing activities for your anxious child. One of the most important things to do is allow children to express these feelings. This illustrated, write-in book is an unworry toolkit, for distracting you from any anxieties, calming you down, and providing a place to sort through your worries and thoughts. It includes a variety of activities, from things to write, color and design, to calm-down tactics and relaxation exercises.

Lets Talk! Conversation Starters-sometimes getting kids to talk about or express their feelings can be really difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard parents complain that they can’t get their kids to talk to them about things that have to do with how they are feeling. This conversation starter kit from Lakeshore Learning is designed for children starting at age 5 but could easily be adapted for younger children. The box contains 50 open-ended questions that help parents and children talk about their feelings, ideas and so much more. Also great for working on conversation skills.

Guess It. Get It. Gumballs-this fun and engaging from Peaceable Kingdom teaches young children learn about feelings, develops empathy and encourages cooperation. Kids take turns spinning the spinner and then use the gumball-grabbing mirror to choose a matching color gumball. Look in the mirror and make the face that you think you might have grabbed. If you guess correctly, add the gumball to the scoreboard. If not, put it back in the gumball machine and try and remember what it is. In order for everyone to win, the players work together to collect a rainbow of gumballs before finding the stink face card. In addition to the social emotional learning that takes place, kids will also work on improving memory skills and improves visual motor skills. 

Putting together this gift guide was a particularly meaningful one for me. I run a social skills group for young children so I know how important having fun and motivating tools have helped them. All of these suggestions are ones that can easily be used in groups or at home. If you have any specific questions or are looking for something else, please reach out to me. I am only a click away and love hearing from you all. I would also love to hear from any of you if you have any wonderful tools that can be used to deepen children’s social emotional intelligence. 

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