Sensory, Mindfulness and Social Emotional Gift Guide 2023

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This is a fairly new addition to my gift guide but one that I think is really important and especially relevant considering in the last few years we have seen an increase in ADHD, anxiety and other social emotional challenges in children of all ages. One of the great things that has evolved during my career is that more therapists, teachers and parents are considering the benefits of incorporating mental and emotional health into child development. There are SO many amazing toys, games, activities and other products out there that not only work on developing fine motor, visual motor, visual perceptual and executive functioning skills but also work on developing social emotional awareness and improve focus, attention and regulation skills. Encouraging children to talk about their feelings and emotions, validating them and working through big feelings is becoming more the norm and it’s so nice to see so many great toys, games and products out there that make it easy for everyone to be exposed to social emotional learning and mindfulness starting at a young age. Children who learn mindfulness exercises and have a good understanding of feelings and emotions will be better able to problem solve, show more empathy towards others, have a tendency to have deeper and more meaningful relationships and friendships. In this gift guide, I share some of the things that I recommend to families who are looking for ways to support their children at home. I have tried to include things that are good for children of all ages and things that will grow with your child. If you are looking for more specific suggestions for your child or family, please reach out to me at and I will do my best to help you out.

1. Yoga Swing-another great option for a sensory swing for home use. Over the last few years, more parents have asked me for ideas for safe and functional swings that they could use for their children who either have sensory/regulation challenges or have a kid who might have anxiety and needs tools to help them through those moments. A yoga swing is great because it doesn’t take up much space and can easily be thrown in the wash. There are countless benefits to having a yoga swing available to kids. The sensory and emotional benefits include helping with improving emotional regulation, managing anxiety and stress, provide them with calming sensory input that helps with focus and attention and encourages children to become more independent in figuring out coping skills when they are feeling big feelings or emotions. The added bonus of having a yoga swing is that it is amazing for working on improving core strength, improves motor planning and coordination skills and works on improving flexibility.

2. 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.

3. Feelings and Emotions Wheel-I am SO upset that this was not around when I was running my social skills groups! This is one of the best options I have seen for a feelings chart for home use. Over the last few years, I have had parents who want to find ways to support their sensory sensitive children at home. One of the biggest mistakes we make when kids are experiencing big feelings is to try engage in conversation or have them talk about how they are feeling. The best thing we can do is give them space, avoid any conversation and just validate that you understand how they are feeling. Instead of asking them, provide them with a visual that they can point to, or in this case, spin the wheel to the emotion they are feeling at the moment. The emotions and pictures are very clear and easy for kids to understand. Teaching kids about feelings and emotions and how to identify them in themselves and other people will make children more empathetic. If you have a child who experiences certain big feelings consistently, you can talk to them when they are calm and discuss strategies to help them get through those tricky times.

4. The Get Movin’ Activity Deck for Kids-part of being mindful is incorporating movement into daily routines. This is especially important for kids who have difficulty with focus, attention or may have anxiety. It is proven that movement and exercise increases blood flow to the brain which directly helps with focus and staying alert. It also helps to reduce stress and anxiety making it easier to focus on tasks while in school or at home. During the winter we are more likely to hear from parents or teachers that their children arehaving more difficulty with focus and attention, having a harder time completing their homework independently or might seem more anxious or sad and part of the reason for that is that depending on where you live, your kids are spending less time outside getting movement and exercise. This is one of my favorite set of activity cards because it was lovingly created by a pediatric physical therapist who has an understanding the needs of children with varying abilities and skills. It comes with 48 oversized cards with a visual of the activity on the front and very clear instructions on the other side including suggestions on other ways to do the activity. One of my favorite things about these cards are that children of all abilities were considered when making the cards and many of the illustrations include kids in wheelchairs, using a walker or crutches and even some with cochlear implants.

5. HugglePod Swing-more and more parents I work with have been asking me for swing recommendations for home to help support their child with sensory or attentional needs at home. They have seen how effective swinging and sensory input is for them at the gym and want to be able to provide safe and independent sensory opportunities so they can better focus and attend to homework or just regulate their bodies when feeling overwhelmed or excited. The good news is there are now so many affordable options to make this feasible for parents to do at home. The HugglePod swing is one of my favorites for home because it is not only good for providing sensory input, it can be a safe and comforting space for children who are sensory sensitive. It’s also great for improving motor planning and body awareness, works on improving trunk control and strength, helps with regulating emotions and provides a proprioceptive input. Another benefit of the HugglePod swing is that kids can read, do homework or just chill out when in the swing.

6. Mindful Maze Boards-starting mindfulness routines with children as young as them being toddlers will help them develop healthy coping skills. If you have young children who might have a hard time with handling big feelings and emotions, these Mindful Maze boards would be a great tool to have at home or in a classroom for a hands-on mindfulness experience. This particular set comes with 3 double-side and oversized boards perfect for toddler size hands. Each maze offers its own unique calming experience with different breathing activities for each picture. Introducing toddlers to mindfulness acts will help children have improved emotional regulation and learn to be more empathetic. Not only are these great for helping to calm bodies and minds, they can also work on improving fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills.

7. LED Tabletop Lightbox-this one is more of an investment present but totally worth it, especially if you have a child with sensory sensitivities. Also, it will last you a lifetime so it’s an investment that will be used for years and years. Not only is it a fun play experience, light can be a fantastic course of visual sensory input and many children find it calming and are able to attend for longer amounts of time, even when engaged in more challenging activities. It can also help the brain process information better, which also leads to improved focus, increased communication skills and a fun tool to encourage cooperative play and other social skills. A lightbox is an extremely versatile toy that can work on so many fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual skills while encouraging open-ended, creative and imaginative play skills. Some of the many activities that can be done on a light table is creating Magna-Tile structures, using dry erase markers to draw or practice making letters, numbers or shapes, practice sorting skills using light table manipulative toys and so much more.

8. Best Self Little Heroes Journal Bundle-I know that so many people find journaling to be life-changing and beneficial. While I have never gotten into it, I know many people who do and it’s been a huge part of their mental wellness and I love that there are so many journals targeted towards encouraging kids to start this at an earlier age. Sometimes it is hard to know what is right for your kid and maybe you have one of those kids who can write freely but many of the kids I work with struggle with this so when I found the Little Heroes Journal I was really excited. Many of the kids on my caseload have a hard time coming up with a starting point when it comes to writing so I really like how this journal offers a variety of prompts to help them jump off on writing. This journal is intended for 8-12 year olds to help them develop a growth-mindset, a can-do attitude and increase their confidence and self-esteem as they embark on this 13-week journaling journey. There are daily activities that encourage confidence, creativity and curiosity and included a fold-out roadmap that helps them track their progress.

9. Make A Face-this is a great hands-on way to teach and discuss feelings and emotions with your little ones. This beautifully made wooden set comes with one face and 8 facial features that you can make a variety of faces. I like the simplicity and how with just a turn of a piece the face can go from happy to frustrated. This toy is a great way to teach young children about feelings and emotions.  If you go to this link, you can enter your email address and you will be sent printable flashcards that kids can use to copy the feelings. You can use this time to talk to your kids about times that they have felt that way and problem solve strategies and coping skills for some of the big feelings like anger, sad and frustration. The OT in me loves that kids are working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and working on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills at the same time.

10. Little Renegades Mindful Kids Cards-being mindful and practicing mindfulness doesn’t always come naturally to some parents and teachers but they understand the importance of it and want to incorporate it into their daily routines. This set of mindfulness cards from Little Renegades was created to help teach younger children how to be in the moment. It’s main goal is to empower young children with basic mindfulness techniques like awareness, breathing, meditation, gratitude and stretching which will then lead to them being more calm, confident and able to find the joy in all things. Each deck comes with 40 double-sided watercolor illustrations for the kids to copy and more detailed instructions for the grownups who are guiding them through the exercises.

11. Baloo Weighted Blanket-like most sensory products, it can be overwhelming to choose which one is the right one. I have found that to be the case with weighted blankets. One of the things that I noticed about kid’s weighted blankets is that they are often very colorful and have bold and big patterns or images on them which from a sensory perspective, can be overstimulating for some children when the point of the blanket is to help calm them down. That’s why I really love the Baloo Weighted blanket. The Baloo Mini Blanket weighs 9 pounds and comes in 3 beautiful and very calming colors and is the perfect size for a kid’s bed or to snuggle in on a couch. I like that the blanket isn’t bulky while providing deep input that can help children fall asleep. Weighted blankets are proven to lower nervous system activity, reduce cortisol levels, and minimize movement during sleep making It helpful for children who have ADHD, autism, PTSD, and sensory processing disorder. The Baloo blanket is machine washable.

12. Kid’s Canvas Tent-something that has come up a lot in the last couple of years is that parents are looking for ways to support their kids during times when they are feeling big things. One thing that I have been recommending to families for years is to set up a safe and calming space for their child to go to during these moments. The first thing I suggest is getting a tent or some kind of enclosed fort that you can create put in some corner of your house or apartment (I’m a NYC based therapist and know space is a consideration so tried to suggest something on the smaller side) for your sensory sensitive child. Put some bean bag chairs in there to add some proprioceptive and comforting input which will help calm your child down, set up a box of fidget toys and some books and when your child is having a meltdown or you notice they need a break, guide them over to the tent.

13. Below you will find three similar products and I had to include I couldn’t pick just one of these so had to include all three of these adorable fidget sets from Learning Resources intended for younger preschoolers. They are equally adorable and have the same purpose of being an age appropriate resource for introducing preschoolers to social emotional learning through a sensory and hands-on approach. Each of the sets comes with 3 food themed fidget toys, a guide with pictures of calming activities and an illustrated postcard size poster that helps children not only learn about various feelings and emotions, but can used for them to express to you how they are feeling without having to talk about it. Any of these would be great to take with you to a party or some kind of event that your sensory sensitive child may become upset or overwhelmed. Another bonus…..all of the fidget toys included in the sets work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, work on improving hand-eye coordination and problem solving skills.

S’Mores Break: Sensory Fidget Activity Set-this set comes with mug with a whipped cream and marshmallow topping that can twist up and down, a marshmallow and graham cracker/S’mores squishie (might be one of the cutest fidgets ever!) and a cinnamon roll’s fidget.
Smoothie Tea Break: Sensory Fidget Activity Set-the smoothie set comes with a smoothie cup with a straw that you push down and it will swirl and twirl the boba balls around, a squishie/textured strawberry to squeeze and an orange spinner fidget.
Bubble Tea Break: Sensory Fidget Activity Set-this set comes with a pop the donut popper, a squishie dumpling and a cup of bubble tea with a straw that goes up and down and has sequin smiley faces hidden inside the swirling sand when you shake it.

14. Hugimals-over the course of my career, I have seen a lot of different weighted stuffed animals and have always appreciated the therapeutic benefits but I hadn’t ever loved a weighted animal until I was introduced to the Hugimals collection. If you are looking for the cutest, most durable and machine-washable weighted stuffed animals, you have found them! We have Sam the Sloth, Emory the Elephant and Charlie the Puppy at my office and they are the most beloved sensory toys we have. Each Hugimal weighs approximately 4.5 pounds and the way they are made and the weight is distributed makes it feel like they are actually giving you a hug when you are holding them which provides a calming impact on children and adults alike! Some of the ways we use them at the gym is to have kids hold them while they are on the swing or place them on their backs while they are lying on their belly on a swing or on the floor and some kids even like to take one and have them sit in their laps while they are doing handwriting or other challenging activities.

Fidget Toys, Squishies, Etc.-one of my favorite things to do is to find and play with different fidget and squishie toys. I have a giant box of squishie and fidget toys at my office and it’s one of the favorite things for the kids. I love seeing what kid is drawn to certain types of fidget toys and what they choose when they are happy versus what they might choose when they are feeling anxious or nervous. Fidgeting is not aways a bad thing and sometimes even help children during tricky times. Some of the benefits of playing with fidget toys are they can help improve focus and attention, they can redirect a child’s anxiety or stress and help them calm down. Below, I share a handful of my favorite fidget and squishie toys. These are just a few of  the hundreds of different options that are out there. The best thing you can do is go to your local toy stores, gift shops, bookstores or drug stores and see what they have that works best for your children because experience has taught me that while some things are great for one kind of kid, they may cause another child to have the complete opposite reaction.

1. Aaron’s Thinking Putty
2. Calm Strips
3. Chonky Cheeks Hamster
4. Lakeshore Fidget Monster
5. Sensory Fidget Slug
6. GooToobz
7. NeeDoh Gumdrop
8.NeeDoh Gummy Bear
9. NeeDoh Gummy Bear
10. Liquid Motion Bubblers
11. Liquid Motion Bubblers
12. Speks Helix Magnetic Fidget Coil
13. Squirkies Little Live Fidget Pets
14. Stretchy Hair Poppy, Stretchy Hair Branch, Stretchy Hair Viva
15.  TopTrendz Water Wigglers


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