Gross Motor, Big Body and Outdoor Toys Gift Guide-2023

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When I put this gift guide together, I try very hard to include not only toys and games for kids of various ages and skill levels, but ones that can be adapted for different ages and skill levels of kids. I also try to include as many gross motor toys and games that can be played with siblings, friends or as a family to work on improving social skills such as turn-taking, being a good sport and being flexible. Especially during the colder winter months in New York City, parents are asking me and my colleagues for ideas to keep their kids busy and active when they can’t be outside in playgrounds and the parks and the good news is that there are SO many great toys, games and products that will keep your little ones busy and active and off of screens. It might seem strange that an occupational therapist, someone who is focused on improving fine motor, grasping and visual motor and visual perceptual skills, would devote an entire gift guide to gross motor gifts but they are very important to encouraging fine motor skills. Another huge benefit of these big body/gross motor toys is that it helps children develop a better sense of body awareness, works on improving coordination and motor planning and executive functioning skills. Below, I describe each of the items pictured about in greater detail and the therapeutic benefits of each. As with each of my guides, this is just a small sampling of gross motor and big body gifts that I use in my sessions. If you are looking for something more specific for your children, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at

1. Zing Ball-I’ve always known this as a Zoom Ball and it’s another one of those super affordable and awesome things to have at home to help facilitate the work your occupational or physical therapist are doing. This is a two person activity and the goal is to pass the ball back and forth to each other by coordinating opening and closing your arms as wide as you can with your partner. The wider you open your arms, the faster the ball will zip back and forth. Zing ball is great for working on increasing upper extremity strength and shoulder stability, improves motor planning, organizational and coordination skills and encourages teamwork with your play partner. Sometimes I like to add a language challenge by asking a kid questions as I pass the ball to them and having them answer it when the pass the ball back to me.

2. The Floor is Lava-the kids I work with LOVE when I have a Floor is Lava day at the gym. When I have a lot of space I open the gym up for them to use any and all of the equipment to build their own Floor is Lava challenges. It’s a great activity because it works on improving motor planning, motor organization and executive functioning skills while also working on providing a TON of sensory input. I have the luxury of space and materials to allow kids to create their own Floor is Lava obstacle courses but most people don’t have that as an option. This board game version of the Floor is Lava promotes family friendly movement for the whole family which is perfect as it is getting colder and kids can’t be outside as much as they can during the rest of the year. The game comes with 25 colored foam “safety stones”, 27 challenge cards, a game spinner and instructions for play. You can play following the instructions or come up with ideas as a family on how to play that best suits your needs.

3. Stomp Rocket Stunt Planes-these will never not be on a gift guide because they are just the best and kids always love Stomp Rockets in any form. Not only are they so much fun, they sneakily work on a bunch of gross motor, sensory, coordination, motor planning skills, encourage visual tracking, attention and focus skills and can work on improving strength and endurance. I like this stomp rocket set because the movement of the planes is unpredictable so the kids really need to focus and watch where the rocket lands. One of the things I like to do is add a movement challenge for the kids when they collect rocket. For example, I will tell them to do some kind of animal walk to get the rocket(s) and then run back as fast as they can to try again.

4. ChalkScapes Roll-Up Chalk Mat-as an occupational therapist, anytime a kid can work on a vertical surface is a bonus so when I discovered this roll-up chalk mat, I was sold. This mat can be used inside or outside, can be hung up to work on the vertical or lay flat on the ground. One of the things I like about this is that it can be used for one kid or make it a social experience and have kids play, draw or create together. The ChalkScapes Roll-Up Chalk Mat is really versatile and can work on improving fine motor, graphomotor, gross motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills, encourages creativity and imagination and can work on increasing upper extremity strength and shoulder stability. Some of the many things you can do with this chalk mat are open-ended drawing or writing, play games such as tic-tac-toe, guess the word and the dot game. One thing I think is very important is choosing the right chalk for both indoor and outdoor use. There are a lot of different chalks to choose from but I recommend finding some kind of dustless chalk for indoor use to limit the amount of mess.

5. Sensory Tiles-these are another big hit at the gym and we had them hidden away for a while and brought them out recently and the kids were so excited. We have these tiles at the gym I work at and kids get so excited whenever they are out. There are several colors to choose from and each tile is 20″ by 20″ making it a great target for jumping. The good thing about them is they are easy to store and end up not taking up much room if you are worried about space and storage. We just lie ours on the side and put it next to a bookshelf and they are completely out of the way. This is a really fun visual sensory experience for kids of all ages. Each time is a different color and when you sit, step or jump on them, they make a fun swirly pattern. These can be used as part of an obstacle course or a really motivating way to encourage kids who are learning out to jump or hop. Using these sensory tiles are a great way to work on improving motor planning and coordination skills, works on increasing overall body strength and encourages the development of gross motor skills all while providing a fun sensory experience. There is also a set of 6 sensory tiles that are a bit smaller that you can find here.

6. Hopscotch Board-another simple but effective gross motor toy to have at home because this doesn’t take up space and can really work on a bunch of gross motor skills. At my gym, we don’t play hopscotch in the traditional way but use it to work on improving jumping, hopping and other gross motor skills. Hopscotch is a great way to work on improving balance, coordination, motor planning and organizational skills, encourages focus and attention and works on improving hand-eye coordination skills. For kids who are just learning how to jump and hop, it’s helpful to have very clear boundaries for them to focus on and to jump into. Hopscotch boards are also great for working on introducing kids to numbers, colors and shapes depending on your hopscotch board.

7. Rody Toy-one of our biggest recommendations when parents ask what they can get at home to supplement what us therapists are doing at the gym is the Rody. We have the small one at the gym and it’s perfect for toddlers but there are larger ones now that are appropriate for older/bigger children. Not only is Rody really cute, it’s great for working on many developmental physical goals and can provide a lot of sensory input through bouncing. Some of the things sitting on a Rody will work on is improving trunk control and strength, work on developing balance and can work on improving coordination and motor planning. Additionally, it’s great for building up leg strength. It comes in a variety of colors and can be easily inflated and deflated.

8. Resistance Sensory Compression Tunnel-so many children have sensory seeking behaviors at home and parents are often at a loss how to give them what they need without having a ton of equipment. One of my go-to recommendations is a resistance tunnel because it’s versatile and doesn’t take up much space. Compression tunnels can be a very effective way to provide a child with sensory input what their bodies need and are easy to adapt to meet the needs of children with a variety of sensory needs. We have a couple compression tunnels in our gym and use them for different things. One of the kids favorite activities with the compression tunnel is to take bean bag chairs (we call them meatballs) and push them through with their hands and head…it offers a ton of deep proprioceptive input to their joints which is calming and organizing and leads to increased attention and focus when they have to sit down at the table to complete tasks. The other benefits of using a compression tunnel includes improving coordination and motor planning skills, helps with improving body awareness and works on increasing over all body strength.

9. Wooden Balance Board-if you have a child with any kind of gross motor challenges, a balance board is one of the best things you can add to your playroom. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and can be combined with other activities that require squatting down to pick up small pieces (think puzzles or toy food sets). Balance boards are great for working on improving balance, coordination and motor planning skills, as well as increasing core strength. There are a variety of balance boards out there but this one is pretty simple. If you are looking for something a little more challenging and versatile and are willing to spend a bit more money, I can’t recommend the Wobbel Board more. I not only have one at home, but have one at home for my own teenage daughter who will pull it out every once in a while when she needs a little movement break during homework.

10. Round Saucer Swing-over the last few years, many more parents have reached out to me about swings to set up in their homes to help support their sensory sensitive children. The first thing I say is to avoid the therapy catalogues and websites because there is no need to spend a ridiculous amount of money when there are plenty of great and very affordable options for swings. This saucer swing is one of my go-to recommendations, especially if a family has more than one child because it can easily fit two kids. This swing is easy to hang and you have the option of buying accessories to make it work indoors or outdoors.  Some of the positive effects of swinging are they provide calming and organizing input to help with improving focus, attention and regulation, work on increasing trunk control and strength and can be a very impactful tool for helping a child who is in a state of fight or flight/anxiety.

11. Koosh Flix Stix-Koosh just came out with a whole new line of toys recently and I am loving them! This is the closest thing you can have to an indoor safe lacrosse set for the cooler winter weather. There is just something about anything with a Koosh ball that brings me right back to my childhood and was so excited to bring this in a couple of weeks and even more excited that the kids are loving it. This is definitely a gross motor toy I use with my school-age kids who have more patience and are willing to problem solve and take suggestions from me on how to use the tools. Koosh Flix Stix is really all about problem solving and figuring out how to not only how to throw the Koosh Ball but how to catch it. In addition to what I have already mentioned, this is great for working on improving hand-eye coordination, focus, attention and is a great game to use if you have kids who need to work on social skills.

12. Cabin Fantasy Fort Kit-sometimes I reach out to colleagues to help me create this gift guides and when I started this one, I reached out to a special educator friend of mine who runs fabulous social skills groups in both Brooklyn and Manhattan (check out Join Playgroup if you are looking for social skills groups for your kids) and asked her for some of her favorite big body collaborative building toys and she sent this back to me in about a second! The set comes with 32 realistic, wood-like cardboard panels, 2 rolls of double-sided hook and loop take and 32 carton clips. I love these kinds of open-ended building sets because they not only work on encouraging creativity, imagination and teamwork, they work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills, encourage hand-eye coordination and work on problem solving skills.

13.Magne-Darts-this is one of the favorite activities for the kids at the gym and I love it because it’s a great way to work on a variety of developmental skills and improves confidence and self-esteem as they master it. We like to use this dart board at my gym while pairing it with some other kind of gross motor activity such as standing on a balance board or a Bosu Ball, working on getting from a sitting to standing position and sometimes even moving the dart board down on the floor and having kids lie in the net swing while playing. Some of the benefits of playing darts with children are improving focus, attention sustained concentration, works on improving hand-eye coordination, motor planning and motor organization and you can also work on improving grasping and manipulation skills by encouraging that they grab and hold the darts using a tripod-like grasp.

14. Mini Kick Scooter-there are a ton of scooters out there but the Mini Kick will always be my g0-t0, especially for the little ones. My daughter was 1 1/2 when it was clear she didn’t want to be in her stroller to get to places and needed to move and we got her her first scooter. It was a game changer and now I recommend it to all of the families I work with. I have a lot of kids on my caseload who have a hard time waking up in the morning and one of the most important things I can suggest to parents is that make their kids move and give them the sensory input before they get into school. Even if they put them in the stroller for part of the walk to school, make sure they put them on the scooter for a few blocks so they get some deep proprioceptive and vestibular input to help their little sensory systems get organized and ready to take on their school day. In addition to the sensory benefits of riding a scooter, kids can work on improve motor planning and coordination skills, improve overall body strength and improve focus and attention.
***be sure to check out your local toy stores to see which Mini Kick scooter is best for your child. Many toy stores will let your kid test out the scooter in the store to help you figure out the best size and fit for them.

15. Indoor Basketball Set-this has been a favorite for our school-age kids but our sporty preschoolers love it too and we have been able to adapt how we use it in the gym to make it suitable for some of our even younger kids. Basketball, in general, is great for working on improving coordination, eye-hand coordination, focus and attention. It is also great for working on increasing upper body strength and can be a confidence and self-esteem booster as they get better at making baskets. I recommend the over the door basketball hoop for families who are looking for ways to keep their kids a little active during colder winter weather when kids tend to spend a lot more time on screens. One of the things we like to do at the gym with this is hang it lower and have kids lie on their backs with their heads close to the hoop and then have them grab the ball with their feet, put it over their heads and try and put it in the hoop. This is great for working on increasing trunk control, motor planning and coordination skills.






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