Norman and Jules 2020 Holiday Gift Guide

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For those of you who know me, you know that I am passionate about supporting our local toy stores. For many of these stores, they have put their heart and souls into their store. Most importantly, these local stores end up knowing you and your children, they watch them grow up. If you are ever in Brooklyn, I can’t stress how you should make sure to stop by Norman and Jules beautiful new store in Gowanus. It’s between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens with many other stores and restaurants worth checking out. 

Working with Courtney, one of the owners of Norman and Jules, we have come up with this list of toys and products that will work on so many occupational therapy and developmental goals. For me, when choosing toys for my private practice, it’s about finding ones that don’t look like they are for special needs. Parents of the kids that I work with want their children to be able to play with the same kinds of toys that other children their age are playing with. Many of the items on this list are what I call investment toys because they will cost more but will last forever. Think toys that will not only last through your own children’s childhood, but be passed down to their children. We were also mindful to try and pick products that would spark your child’s imagination and encourage open-ended play. During this crazy time, kids are expected to follow so many new rules and play should about doing what they want and how they want to do it. 

Land of Dough-I am absolutely obsessed with the gorgeous play dough by this company.  It comes in the most beautiful and unique designs such as rainbows and space and galaxy. Whenever I pick some up for my daughter, I pick up two containers because she wants one to play with and one to keep all pretty. Not only is it totally unique and gorgeous, it is made from all natural ingredients such as beetroot, spirulina and organic jojoba and lavender oils. The dough comes in its own reusable, compostable bags making it easy to store and with a little wooden scooper. Playing with dough is great for encouraging sensory exploration, works on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills and improves bilateral and hand-eye coordination. Some of the things you can do with the dough is hide beads inside and have your child find them, practice making shapes, letters or numbers and practice cutting by rolling dough into “snakes” and have them snip into small pieces. 

Colour Me Crayons-one of the beautiful things about living in a place like New York City is being surrounded by people of every nationality and color. When I saw these crayons on Norman and Jules’ Instagram feed back in the spring, I almost cried and then immediately purchased them for work.  This set of crayons comes with 12 vibrant skin colors so that every child can find the color that matches their skin. There are so many wonderful things about these skin-toned crayons. First of all, it is so important that when a child is asked to draw a picture of themselves that they have the option of finding a crayon that represents their skin color. Second of all, these crayons are triangular which encourages an appropriate grasp in young children. 

Goober Peanut Crayons-I am constantly on the lookout for different kinds of writing instruments, especially for the little ones that I work with. One of the most important things about introducing young children to crayons and other drawing tools is that they help to promote good grasping skills from an early age. What I love about these peanut shaped crayons is that they are a really good width and shape for little hands. The bean like shape is great for encouraging kids to grab them and then use a tripod like grasp. They are made from natural bean wax and all non-toxic ingredients so parents don’t have to worry if your risk-taking little one decides to put them in their mouths. Another fun thing about the unique shape of these crayons are that they can stand up or stack on top of each other which your child will love! 

Eco Chains-I’m a sucker for any small manipulative toys, especially ones that are easy to throw in a bag to take on the go. Manipulative toys (think Legos and pop-beads) are very important for building up a child’s hand strength and manipulation skills, which is crucial skills for the development of academic skills such as cutting, drawing and handwriting. Eco chains are colorful links that children can connect. In addition to working on grasp strength and manipulation skills, they are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness and logical thinking. Add challenges by having your children make patterns or sort them by color and link them together that way. Like I already said, these are great to throw in your bag when traveling or out and about to keep your little ones busy and off a screen. 

Jumbo Weaving Frames-I have always been a fan of all weaving toys but often times they are too small for the kids that I work with which leads to frustration and eventually, they give up entirely. Right off the bat, this is what I call an investment toy. It’s a bit on the pricey side but once you see it, you will understand the reason. The quality of both the frames and the fabric strips is off the charts awesome. They will be able to handle major wear and tear of your rambunctious little ones and last you for ages. The set comes with a square, triangle and circle frames and several multi-fabric strips. It also comes with 15 large, double-sided weaving activity cards for children to follow. The nice thing about this set is that kids can try and copy the designs on the cards or make their own designs. The Jumbo Weaving Frames are great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves bilateral and hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills. 

Make A Face-Moon Picnic makes beautiful wooden toys, including this Make A Face toy which I have used with my social skills group, The Meeting House, when we talk about feelings and emotions. Right now kids are experiencing all kinds of big feelings and emotions and don’t always have the right words to describe them. For many kids, especially younger ones, talking about their feelings are difficult and often times embarrassing. In my social skills group, we start each session off with a feelings check in and this is something that I have suggested that the families of kids who are homeschooling or doing distance learning incorporate into their daily routine. If your child isn’t quite ready to talk about it, this toy is a great tool to put in their work area and have them put together each morning. In addition to them becoming more aware of their feelings, children can work on improving their grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. 

My Weather Station-one of my favorite parts of a preschool classroom is morning meeting and for some reason, listening to kids describe the weather seems like such an important part of that meeting time. With so many children not in a traditional classroom this year, I know many families are trying to bring the classroom to them and Moon Picnic’s My Weather Station is a great addition to any home classroom or learning pod. This fun, educational and interactive toy has 4 movable parts (great for working on fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills) and 5 weather symbols to display. Great for teaching kids about seasons, temperature and so much more while encouraging them to notice details about their environment. 

Rainbow Bowl Sorting Game-some of my favorite things are fine motor toys, rainbows and really well made wooden toys. If you don’t know about the Grimm’s toy collection, I highly recommend you find out about it. When my now 10 year old daughter was about 3 years old, a client gifted me with the Grimm’s Rainbow and it’s always had a prominent place in our house. When Covid hit, that rainbow went right into our rainbow and has been there since. I digress, this rainbow sorting toy is a truly great toy that will teach your little one so much. Not only will they learn about colors and shapes, they will do so in a multi-sensory way which is so important. This set comes with 2 trays that hold 6 colored bowls, a pair of large tweezers and 3 different shapes in each color that you can put in the correct that you use the large tweezers to sort the same colored fish, star and heart in matching bowl. Children work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages focus and attention. 

Peekaboo Lock Boxes-this take on shape sorters is one of my favorite things that I have at my gym. First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful and sturdy, making it perfect for the wear and tear it goes through with many kids playing with it. Like the traditional shape sorter, a child has to figure out where all the shapes go, but this has so many other aspects that are so great for your little ones development. There are 6 colored boxes with not only a place to put the shape in, but one side with a different fastener you have to open and close, and a clear panel so you can see through. It also comes with a tray that has 6 colored squares for each box to go into. So not only is your child learning about shapes, they are learning about colors, matching and developing critical fine motor and manipulation skills. There are also opportunities for open-ended play; after my kids put the shapes in or practice the different fasteners, I left them play with the blocks and have seen them make towers, buildings or whatever else comes to their minds. This is a gift that really checks off a ton of boxes and is worth every penny! 

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! 

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. 

Magnetic Fishing Set-I am including this after the Wobbel Board because I think this is a great toy that you can use while on the board. I use the Wobbel Board and other balance boards with my kids at work all the time and the most important thing is combining it with the right kind of toy or activity because maintaining their balance can be tricky and frustrating making them want to get off right away. This beautiful fishing toy is a perfect way to distract your kids from the “work”. This adorable set includes a fishing rod with a moveable reel and three magnetic fish, an octopus and a shell for kids to easily catch. 
Whether you are on a balance board or just playing, this little toy packs a real punch with all the ways it can help with your child’s developmental skills. Kids can work on improving bilateral and hand-eye coordination, improves grasping and manipulation skills and encourages focus, attention and organizational skills. 
Wooden Swing Board-if you are fortunate enough to have the space for this, I say get it! I have something similar to this at the gym I work at but this one is so much better that I might have to replace it! Balance and coordination are critical for the development of so many other gross motor skills like jumping, running and learning how to ride a scooter and/or a bicycle. In addition this swing is great for working on improving body and safety awareness, motor planning and providing children with sensory input during these crazy Covid times. It can be used indoors or outdoors and your child should always be supervised! 

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