Building Blocks of Play

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Building/Construction Toys
This is one of my favorite sections to complete each year.  While there are several items that are always on there, I have included some new construction and STEM sets this year.  These kinds of toys are great for developing a variety of fine motor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, problem solving and executive functioning skills.  They are also great for helping children become more creative, develop imagination skills and can help them feel more confident when they are done building and creating.

Magna-Tiles-these magnetic tiles have made my list every year since I began.  Not only are they great for working on motor planning and organizational skills, they are easy for kids of all ages and abilities to use them with great success.  If you have a child with decreased motor skills or decreased upper extremity strength, these are great for them.  Kids can build anything from an ice cream cone or a building as tall as them.  In the last few years, they have created different colored sets and ones with doors, windows and wheels so kids can create even more.  In addition to working on motor planning and organizational skills, playing with Magna-Tiles can help encourage bilateral coordination, imagination and creativity and easily be played with a friend to work on improving social and play skills.

Tegu Blocks-another favorite of mine, the Tegu blocks are beautiful wooden blocks that stick together via magnets.  Like the Magna-Tiles, I was originally drawn to these blocks because they were great for children of all ages and abilities.  Kids who may present with motor and coordination problems can play with these independently and successfully which helps in building confidence, self-esteem and imagination and creativity.  Tegu has evolved over the years and now have sets where you can make robotshelicopters and some really cool circuit sets!

Toobalink-I love discovering a new building toy, especially ones that can use household objects to help you create and build.  Toobalink is a construction kit that comes with connectors, joiners and couplers that help turn paper towel and toilet paper tubes into whatever it is your child can think of.   It also comes with an instruction booklet that gives you idea but that doesn’t mean that you can’t let your imagination go crazy and think outside of the box!  Great for working on improving motor planning and organizational skills, bilateral coordination, imagination and creativity skills.  Also great to work on with friends or siblings to encourage team-work and collaborative play.

Robot Engineer Kit (Level 1)-more and more young kids are interested in building and being engineers.  One thing I have noticed over the last few years is the increase in products that encourage STEM education.  This fun robot kit introduces kids to the basic engineering concepts, teaches them about gears, levers and wheels and allows them to be creative at the same time.  Each kit comes with extremely well made and durable pieces that snap together to build a robot.  It also comes with a book that has 10 different stories the kids have to follow along with in order to put the robot together.  Great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills such as organization, motor planning, focus, attention and following multi-step directions.

Squigz– These colorful suction cup toys seem so simple but encourage a bunch of developmental skills in kids of all ages.  pipSquigz are perfect for babies and younger children. Each set comes with 3 different shape and colored pipSquigz with a different texture and sound (kind of like a rattle) which is great for expanding their tactile world.  The suction cup toys not only stick to each other but to mirrors, windows and similar like surfaces.  My kids LOVE the sound they make and I love that they work on improving eye-hand coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, bilateral coordination and exploring a variety of different textures.  Another bonus, they are BPA-free which makes them ideal for children who may be teething.  As kids get older, you can get them the Squigz.  These suction cup toys can be stuck to each other or to different surfaces (like the refrigerator, mirror or windows).  Kids LOVE them!  Great for working on improving bilateral coordination, eye-hand coordination, grasp strengthening and visual motor skills.

Joinks-last year I wrote about Straws and Connectors, another great building toy, but spent some time this year looking for something that was a bit more durable and could handle the wear and tear of use by multiple kids.  Joinks are just that!  This construction kit comes with 76 flexible connectors and wooden sticks that you can use to build a variety of shapes, buildings, people, etc..  Great for working on building fine motor skills, visual motor skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  Kids can work on their own to create or play with a friend and work together to help build something fabulous.

Waldorf Inspired Rainbow Stacker-this homemade Waldorf inspired building toy by Hope Learning Toys is great for working on visual motor and perceptual skills.  It’s a beautifully made toy that can help younger children work on learning colors.  It can also be used to encourage free play and language skills.  Made with all natural materials and dyes and safe for all ages.

Action-Stackers Little Builder Set-for as long as I have been practicing as an occupational therapist, I have always used the Lauri tall stackers and pegboard.  They are definitely the best pegboard set out there and great for working on so many fine motor, visual motor and executive functioning skills.  I was really excited when I was walking around Westside Kids in Manhattan and saw this awesome product.  Kids can use the pegboard and pegs to build 3-D designs or can just use the pegs, connectors and wheels to build structures, cars, etc.. Great for working on building their imagination and creative skills.  Also great for working on improving motor planning, organizational skills
In addition to the pegboard and pegs, the set comes with a variety of connectors, wheels and a step by step activity book.

Legos-I always try and make as many different suggestions for construction and building sets before recommending the good old standby, Legos/Duplos.  Over the years, Lego has evolved into something so big and targeting the interests of kids of all ages.  Whether you are a superhero fan, a lover of princesses or vehicles, you will always be able to find a set that is good for your child.  Legos/Duplos are great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills, grasp strength, bilateral coordination, a variety of visual motor and perceptual skills and executive functioning skills.  It’s also great for building confidence and self-esteem when they complete their Lego sculpture.

One of the great things about Legos is that you can find them in any local toy store so support those small businesses and purchase your Lego sets from them instead of getting them from the big box stores.  Some of my favorite stores in NYC to get them from are Westside KidsMary Arnold Toy StoreToy and Stationery World ,  Lulu’s Cuts and Toys and  Little Things Toy Store in Park Slope.

Basic Builder Set-another amazing product from Hape Toys that encourages younger children to build and create!  This is a great set for younger children because the pieces are bigger making them easier to manipulate.  Kids can work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination, motor planning and organizational skills.  The set also includes a bunch of cards with images on how to make a bunch of different things which is great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills.

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