2020 Holiday Gift Guides-Toys and Such

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For some reason, it was harder to put this list together this year. As I am finishing it up, I am realizing that I was trying my absolute hardest to curate a list of toys that are not just for particular age groups, but also ones that would grow with your child and be good for family play. In this crazy year, I have heard from so many parents that they would rather get their children fewer but more meaningful gifts so as I was putting this list together, I was thinking about things that I would have wanted for my own daughter when she was younger. I was also mindful about sharing gifts this year that were more sensory and provided more hands-on learning opportunities since another concern parents had this year was to limit the gifts that they purchased that would have them on a screen of some sort. Another aspect of all these toys is that they can be used in multiple ways in order to work on a variety of skills based on what your child’s interests and developmental needs might be. The last thing I wanted to include were open-ended toys that allow children to use their creativity and imagination instead of having to follow exact rules and expectations. I have found that in the last several months that kids are feeling a lack of control (rightly so) and that during my sessions I want to provide the comfort of providing them with structure and routine while also giving them choices at the same time. 

Innybin-Fat Brain Toys creates some of my all time favorite sensory exploration toys for the little ones on your list who aren’t quite ready for your traditional shape sorter. Young kids push different large textured shapes through a bunch of elastic bands and then try and retrieve them. This simple toy works on the development of so many essential skills for children between 6 months and 2 years such as encouraging fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, provides an opportunity for sensory/tactile exploration and begins to teach young kids about cause and effect. 

Wooden Pastel Stacking Tower-who isn’t familiar with the old-school Fisher-Price Rainbow Stacking toy from my childhood? Even if you are way younger than me, you know what toy I am talking about. Over the years, I have become a huge fan of wooden toys so when I saw this beautiful stacking toy by Avdar Toys on the Rose & Rex shop, I was sold. Stacking toys, while so simple, are a perfect addition to any baby/toddlers toy collection. Even before we can expect them to stack them in order, we want provide children with opportunities to explore and manipulate different sized objects. Next we want them to be able to pick the rings up and place them on the stand and eventually be able to place them in the right order. In addition to working on fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, stacking towers work on developing hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and problem solving skills. 

Lalaboom Snap Beads-there are a few things that should always be part of a toddler’s toy collection and snap beads are definitely one of those things. I have been using and gifting the Lalaboom beads for a few years now and really them because they are more than just pop beads and do so much more than the traditional ones. They can be used with children as young as 6-8 months (depending on when they begin to sit up unassisted) and because of their very special design, can be used with toddlers and even preschoolers. This set of 15 colored beads come in a variety of textures which encourages sensory exploration for younger children. Each bead can be twisted into two pieces and be mixed and matched with the other beads in the set. These are also designed so that kids can stack them and build with them and also have holes in them so you can string them with the provided needle and string in the kit. In addition to working on fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, they are great for working on encouraging bilateral and hand-eye coordination, increased upper body strength and when used for open-ended play, encourages creativity, imagination and problem solving skills. 

Lalaboom Pegboard-piggybacking on the Lalaboom Snap Beads, I have to share this cool pegboard that you can using the beads. It actually just arrived and I can’t wait to test it out with my kids at work this week. Unlike the traditional pegboards where you push the peg in/pull the peg out, you have to twist these beads on and off the board. This set comes with 1 pegboard, 5-double sided cards and 10 beads of various colors and textures. One of the things that I love about this company and these products is that they about how toys can grown with the children. For babies, just being able to play and manipulate the beads is the purpose. As they get older, around 18 months, the goal is for kids to be able to screw and unscrew the beads into the matching colors on the board. This toy works on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, visual motor and visual perceptual skills., encourages bilateral and hand-eye coordination and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, problem solving and organizational skills. A bonus is that they are safe for teething babies to chew on and easy to clean. 

Peekaboo Lock Boxes-This take on shape sorters is one my absolute favorite things at my gym. First of all, it’s beautiful and sturdy and can be used for so much more than just a shape sorting toy. It can be used to build and stack with and encourages sensory and fine motor exploration. Kids not only have to find the correct place to put each shape, they also have to match the colored boxes to the correct spot on the board. Each box also has a different latch or fastener that they need figure out how to open and close which is great for working on the development of fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills. There are also opportunities for open-ended play using the blocks, the shapes and the board which is great for working on critical thinking, problem solving and imagination. 

Poke-A-Dot Alphabet and Number Cards-I have loved the Melissa and Doug Poke-A-Dot books forever and when I saw these cards at a local pharmacy I was really excited to share them on this years gift guide. These jumbo-sized Poke-A-Dot alphabet and number cards are a hands-on, sensory based learning tool that will encourage fine motor and manipulation skills at the same time. Each set includes 13 sturdy, double-sided cards with letters/numbers with pictures/objects that correspond to each letter/number on the card. These are also great for language development, encourage counting skills and improve hand-eye coordination skills. Great for on-the-go learning and fun for your toddlers and preschoolers. 

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks-these magnetic blocks have been part of my gift guides for years. They were also one of the first sets of blocks that I got my daughter years ago and they are still in absolutely perfect condition. When I first began working in private practice, I was working with a child with cerebral palsy who was interested in playing with blocks but didn’t have the control to play with them successfully. I went on a hunt to find something that would work and stumbled upon the Tegu blocks and was intrigued by the magnetic aspect and if he would have more success. I won’t ever forget the look on his face as he played with the blocks for the first time. I have been recommending these blocks for years and years and personally give them as gifts to so many of my friends and family who have babies. Great for working on improving grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye and bilateral coordination and works on developing visual motor and visual perceptual skills, and encourages creativity and imagination. 

Alphabet Play Blocks/Numbers Play Blocks Set-if I had to choose one thing for you to buy out of 
everything on this list, I would have to put these at the top of my list. Just like some of the previous toys, the alphabet and number blocks are considered an investment toy and will last forever. When I first saw these posted on Instagram, it took me all of 5 seconds to order them, even though I wasn’t working with children in person. The alphabet blocks were the first new toy I introduced to my kids when I began working with them in person and they have been a a huge hit with kids of all ages! They love being able to find the object that matches with each letter, putting the letters in order and playing with some of the object blocks. They get kids excited to learn about letters and numbers and  can be used to encourage learning how to write. Grownups will be as excited to play with these blocks as their kids! 

Magna-Tilesanother staple to my holiday gift guide. MagnaTiles are pricey but worth the investment and will last you for a lifetime. My daughter is 10 years old and we still have her original set of MagnaTiles and are still in perfect condition. She may not use them as much but they are pulled out from time to time. MagnaTiles are also a huge hit with my kids in my social skills group and are a great tool to encourage creativity and imagination skills while also working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination. I like to have my kids at work use different characters and work together to build something for them to then play with the dolls. For example, I have seen kids use them to build a castle for the Disney Princess Magic Clip Dolls. It’s so fun to watch them not only create together, but then come up with a story for the princesses. My new favorites are Magna-Tile Structures. These new Magna Tile sets have images on them such as Sesame Street characters, Eric Carle stories, Build-A-Bear Workshop sets and a series of vehicles and buildings. 

Lite-Brite-I have been using some of the newer versions of the Lite Brite in my private practice for years, but there is nothing quite like the simplicity of the original one. Some of the newer versions of Lite-Brite have had different shaped pegs which I found were sometimes challenging for the younger kids to manipulate independently. This updated version that resembles the original Lite-Brite but is now bigger and brighter, offers four different light options and comes with more pegs. It comes with 6 design templates but you can go to their website to download more options and you can create your own designs. Lite-Brite is great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and task completion. I love that it also allows children to come up with their own creations and I have used it to have kids practice how to make shapes, letters and numbers. 

Wobbel Balance Board-one thing I have noticed about the pandemic is that there is a definite increase in children’s sensory seeking behaviors. Starting in March, our kids had to adjust to so many changes with the most drastic one being that they stopped going to school in person. Until the stay at home orders happened all over the country, our kids were used to a very stimulating and active life. All of a sudden, their lives went digital and Zoom school, therapy and playdates were the new normal. When I made the switch to remote therapy, one of the first things I asked many of my families to order was the Wobbel Board. I have had one for my own daughter for years and I wanted my kiddos to have more opportunities to move during their remote school day and to use during our online sessions. It’s also been a really good tool for me to add more gross motor and motor planning activities into my virtual sessions. If you go onto their website, you can download and print out a set of activity cards which have been a big hit with my kids. 

Natural Building Blocks-I love this handcrafted set of building blocks from Hope Learning Toys. Using natural birch and oak, these blocks open young minds to creative play and construction. Varying sized blocks make each play time new and engaging. 100% safe and all natural, they are sealed with beeswax. The 30 piece set comes with a gorgeous handmade woven basket for storage. In addition to working on creative play, children work on developing imagination, creativity and problem solving skills which are critical skills for developing confidence, self-esteem and lead to appropriate socialization skills with peers.  

Color Sorting Wooden Rainbow-I am a complete sucker for rainbow themed toys so when I saw this color sorting rainbow, I couldn’t add it to my toy arsenal fast enough. Kids work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and so much more while putting the colored pom-poms in the matching color of the rainbow. In addition to fine motor skills, kids are working on visual perceptual skills, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, matching, sequencing and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and task completion. Here are a  few things you can do to mix things up when using the rainbow: pick up pom-poms up with a set of kid’s chopsticks/Zoo Sticks; have them roll a dice and count out that number of pom-poms to put in the rainbow. 

Wooden Tray Number Set-I am absolutely obsessed with these number trays and have used them in so many ways with my kids at work. Obviously, they are great for teaching younger children numbers, but they can be used to help them learn how to write their numbers, count, sort, sequence, etc. This set of 10 handcrafted number trays are used to engage early math skills through play and exploration. I like to use them combined with some kind of fine motor activity such as using Zoo Sticks to pick up small objects and place the correct number of objects in the tray. Encourage sensory exploration by filling a bowl with different kinds of objects (marbles, beans, pasta, etc.) and have kids sort them into the trays. 

Emotion Wheel-kids (and grownups) are experiencing lots of big feelings these days but may have a hard time expressing them to others. One of the things we do to kick off my social skills group each week is have everyone tell the group how they are feeling. Because it is often difficult for kids to choose an emotion, we have a poster with lots of feelings for them to choose. I fell in love with this Emotion Wheel when I saw it and can’t wait to be back in-person and use it with my kids. For those of you who have younger children who doing remote learning, the Emotion Wheel could be a great way for your kids to start their day. At breakfast, everyone in the family can go around and share how they are feeling. This is a great thing to keep out in the open so if your child is experiencing a difficult moment in their day and can’t talk about it you can direct them to go over and show you how they are feeling. Once your child is able to identify how they are feeling, you can come up with coping skills and strategies during those difficult time.  

Curve Ball-I am trying to include as many indoor-appropriate gross motor gift options this year since there is a really strong chance our kids will be spending a lot more time inside this winter than normal. Providing your children opportunities for movement during remote learning will help with their focus and attention, help decrease frustration that so many kids are experiencing with all this online learning and build up their confidence and self-esteem. Curve Ball from Fat Brain Toys is a fun game that can be played independently or as a family. Roll the wobbly weighted ball at just the right angle in order to avoid the obstacles to knock down the pin. Kids try and beat the 10 challenges that are included with the game and then can make up their own. Works on improving hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization, problem solving and critical thinking skills. 

Lego Dots Kits-I’m constantly on the lookout for toys and craft products that are good for older children and that’s exactly where my head went when I discovered the Lego Dots kits. I picked up a couple sets for my once Lego obsessed daughter and was happy to see how into completing them. Kids can explore different ways to express themselves with a different room decor items or bracelets. My daughter loves her jewelry box. What I love about these kits is that they give you directions to make the base of the project (jewelry box, pencil holders, picture frames and bracelets) but then let kids use small, colorful Lego pieces to make the project reflect their personalities. The best part is that if they feel like changing things up, they can easily remove the pieces and re-design it. Great for increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills, works on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills, improves bilateral and hand-eye coordination and encourages creativity. 

Kid Made Modern Arts and Crafts Supply Library-this is one of my favorite arts and crafts collections and love that it is appropriate for children of all ages and developmental levels. This collection comes with over 1000 pieces of art supplies including peg dolls, wooden loose pieces, pipe cleaners, beads, pom-poms, googly eyes and SO much more and come in a sturdy case with a handle so it can be taken on the go. While they give you suggestions on what you can make with the different materials, it is truly and invitation for kids to use their imagination and be creative using a variety of materials. This open-ended craft library allows children to think outside the box and figure out all the different ways they can explore and use materials to create which helps with improving confidence and self-esteem. 

Please be sure to come back and check in on this blog post in the next few days as I will be adding a few other things as they come to my mind. If you are looking for something special for the children in your life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me and I would be happy to make specific suggestions. There is so much more out there and I love helping people find the perfect gifts for the special little ones in their lives. Remember, I am always a click away and love hearing from you all. 

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