The Small (But Fun) Stuff!

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Goody Bag Bar at Hiho Batik

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, finding small presents is a necessity during the holiday season.  For me, filling an advent calendar and stockings are so much fun.  I love finding little treasures because I know how much my daughter loves them.  I was actually in Hiho Batik, a local clothing and gift store in Park Slope, recently and saw they have a Goody Bag Bar but all of the little gifts would make wonderful stocking stuffers as well.  They have a fantastic selection of little gifts (think lip gloss, bouncy balls, modeling clay, etc.) you can stock up on.  If you are local, I highly recommend checking it out.  I know that I am going to be hitting them up to find some special treasures for a lot of the special little kids in my life.

Finding little gifts that aren’t junk can be a real challenge.  If you are like me, you don’t want to just buy stuff for the sake of buying it.  The good news is that there are actually a lot of quality small and inexpensive gifts out there.  I have tried to include items that are good for kids of all ages and don’t take up a lot of room (being a New Yorker, I appreciate the importance of real estate and not having your space taken over by your kid’s toys!).  Each of the items I have featured below are guaranteed to be lots of fun but, at the same time, offer some kind of educational and therapeutic value.  Lastly, I have tried to suggest things that are priced under $10 (most but not all fit into this last category).

Here are some of my favorite little gifts for this year:
Rainbow Loom Finger Loom-even though it seems like more of a summer thing, I love therapeutic value of the Rainbow Loom.  When I found the Finger Loom this summer, I was super excited.  This little bracelet maker is perfect for throwing in a baggie with a bunch of your child’s favorite colored bands.  Perfect for working in fine motor development, eye-hand coordination, focus, attention and organizational skills.
Discovery Putty-I can’t love this putty more by Fun and Function.  More importantly, the kids I work with couldn’t love it more and it does so many great things for them.  There are now 4 different putties to choose from (school supplies, transportation, treats and animal rescue).  There are about a dozen or so small pieces hidden in the putty and the kids have to search through find them.  Once they find them all, you can have them hide the pieces again for the next person.  This is great for working on strengthening and fine motor control.  Also great for working on speech and language development.
Moulin Roty Transfers-I remember the sticker transfers when I was a kid and was so excited to see my friends at Norman and Jules had a couple of sets….a city setting and a farm setting.  Great for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping and strength, bilateral coordination and executive functioning skills like organization, planning, focus and attention.  I have been experimenting with different tools to use and have found that a good pencil seems to work the best.

Kikkerland Rainbow Twirler Top-this is one of those little things I stumbled upon and didn’t think much of it.  It didn’t cost much and we saw some kids playing with it in the store and my daughter really wanted to try it.  This little toy is super fun and my love playing with it.  I have used it to work on improving bilateral coordination but mostly to get kids to calm down and regroup if they are getting anxious about something.  The spinning is fun to watch but what I really like is that if you go too fast it gets all tangled up.  It causes a child to really concentrate on slowing down.
Animal Poppers-I’ve always loved these little toys and they bring kids such joy.  My daughter and husband will play with these things for so long and end up in tears…the happy kind that come from laughing so hard!  I’ve used them in therapy before because they are great for improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination.  I have set up targets for kids to have to aim and launch the balls out which helps with improving visual attention and tracking skills.They  require a tremendous amount of focus, concentration and planning and finding fun ways to work on that with kids can be difficult.
LED Light Up Spinning Flyers-I remember this toy from growing up and have always snatched one up one I have seen one in any store.  I actually remember  making my own at some point using a large button and yarn!  It’s a super simple and inexpensive gift but there are so many benefits to this toy from an OT point of view.  This particular set from Hearthsong comes with two spinners in different shapes.  It requires using bilateral coordination, focus/attention, patience and motor planning in order to get the spinner moving.  If you get it going just right, you can keep it spinning and making fun sounds for a long time.
Travel Spirograph-I love that so many of the toys that I used growing up are still around and/or
coming back after years of being shelved.  Spirograph is one of those great timeless toys that kids love today as much as we loved it years ago.  The travel set is perfect for airplane rides, long car rides or keeping your kids entertained while out to dinner.  Each set comes with 6 different wheels, two pens, a pad of paper and case that has a built in ring to put your wheels into.  Everything fits inside easily so it’s easy to keep things in order and organized.  Great for working on bilateral coordination, fine motor skills, eye-hand coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills.
Rapper Snappers-also known as pop-tubes, these are a staple in almost every sensory gym I’ve ever worked in or visited.  A really simple toy but for some reason the kids love it.  Maybe it is the fun sound it makes when you pull it apart and push it together or the way it feels as you play with it.  Whatever it is, kids don’t tire of them and they work on so many things.  Great for working on improving bilateral coordination, grasping skills, upper extremity strength and eye-hand coordination.  I will make shapes out of them and have kids copy what I did with them before we might practice drawing the shape.  Adding a hands-on, tactile experience helps kids learn things at a faster rate.
ZooSticks-I love my zoo sticks and try and use them whenever possible when working with my kids. Chopsticks are hard to use but since these are connected at the top, they are easier to use.  I will recommend parents get these for meal times when their kids are struggling with fine motor skills because they work on improving fine motor and grasping skills.  I use them all the time at the gym with the kids…whether it be picking up squishy animals or cleaning up game pieces, the ZooSticks are great for working on improving a ton of skills.  And if you find your child’s favorite animal, they are so excited to use them, they don’t even realize that they are doing work!

WikkiStix-this is another one of those toys that I have been using since becoming a therapist a million years ago.  Simply put, WikkiStix are wax covered pieces of yarn that can adhere to almost any smooth surface.  You can bend them into a variety of shapes and squeeze them together to make longer to make different shapes and objects.  I have used them to work on teaching children how to make shapes, letters and numbers.  They are great because they are light-weight and don’t take up much room making them perfect to throw into a bag for using in restaurants, waiting before appointments, etc..  Check out these Super Wikki Stix…each strand is 3 feet in length making creating much  more exciting and fun!
Super Snow-it’s winter and even though some of us get lots of natural snow, there are a lot of people who don’t and want to get that wintery feeling.  Super Snow is a perfect solution for that problem and at the same time is a great sensory experience.  Simply combine water with the snow powder, stir and your snow appears.  The more you stir it, the more it shines and sparkles.  Best part is that it can be reused by spraying water on it again.  As mentioned, a great sensory experience but also great for working on bilateral coordination, strengthening (hide things in the snow and have them dig through and find it) and can improve speech and language.
Melting Snowman-I have used this at work and the kids love it!  You get a little box of white putty with all the necessary parts to build a snowman.  Once it is all together, he will melt and you have to put him back together.  Everyone thinks it is hilarious to watch him melt!  Great for working on improving fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, building grasp strength and manipulation skills, body awareness and focus and attention.  I’ve actually seen these sets at several of my local toy stores (Little Things in Park Slope, Stationary and Toy on the UWS of Manhattan and Mary Arnold Toys on the UES to name a few).

Jiggly Jewels-I love finding hands on activities that kids can really   interact with.  So many of the kids I work with have difficulty with feeling different kinds of textures which can cause them to have trouble in other areas (most common, using glue or paint for school activities).  Through play and exploring different sensory materials, children can actually overcome these defensive behaviors.  The important thing is to find materials that are inviting for the kids…ones that they will want to play with.  Jiggly Jewels is sensory exploration and science combined into one fun activity.  Each set comes with the supplies needed to make colored crystal cubes, fish eggs and garbled marbles.  They start off as small little beads and by adding water, they turn into the different things mentioned before.  Kids can watch them grown and then play with them (they are wet and slimy (good kinda slime feeling)).  One of the best things about this is that the whole set costs under $8!

Wacky Wally-another one of those kids toys that will bring you back in time.  This inexpensive toy is guaranteed to bring hours of fun to your little ones.  What I really love about it is that you can make this a therapeutic toy without the kids knowing they are working on occupational therapy goals.  In our gym, we have this mirror that takes up the whole entire wall and I have the kids throw these sticky creatures at different targets.  Great for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills, eye-hand coordination, motor planning and organization and upper extremity strength. With a price tag of about $5 or $6, you won’t feel bad or poor buying a couple!

I could go on and on with little toys to buy but I have to spend some time on the rest of my gift guide!  If you have any wonderful small toys or gifts that you have given in the past that have been a huge success, please share your ideas with me and my readers.  I love hearing about new toys and gifts and I know that many of my readers would probably be thrilled to have more ideas for the holiday season.  I am always a click away and appreciate and look forward to hearing from any of you with additional  toy suggestions!

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