The Small Stuff Gift Guide-2023

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I say it every year, but this is one of my favorite gift guides to put together every year. I have found over the years that the kids that I work with love all of the little toys at the gym and I love that they can really offer a lot of therapeutic benefits. Parents and caregivers like them because they don’t take up a lot of room and can be taken on the go to keep your little ones entertained while traveling, waiting for meals to arrive at a restaurant, in doctor waiting rooms or if you are killing time at sibling sports or other activities. The great thing about all of the items I share in this gift guide is that they encourage a variety of developmental, cognitive and occupational therapy skills without the kids even knowing it! Below, I have described the developmental and therapeutic benefits of each of the toys pictured above. The toys and games shared this year may work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourage eye-hand coordination, improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills, encourage the development of social emotional skills and work on developing executive functioning skills. I tried to include things for kids of all ages and varying interests so you should be able to find something for all the special kids on your list this year. If you don’t see something or have a child with specific interests you would like to buy for, reach out to me and I should be able to help you find the perfect gift. The hardest thing about compiling this gift guide is that I have so much more I want to include and deciding what makes the cut each year is such a challenge.
One more thing, I tried to find gifts that you should be able to find in some of your local toy or bookstores. When possible, I linked the local shops that I support in the New York area. I have found some of my most favorite things at Norman and Jules, Pink Olive, Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, Stationery and Toy World , Fun Stuff Toys and Little Things Toy Store.
Happy Shopping!  

1. Suction Cup Giraffe Poptubes-poptubes are a staple for any occupational therapist and I am loving how they keep evolving over the last few years and how much they still motivate kids. There are SO many kinds to choose from now but I am loving that these giraffe ones (this comes in a set of 12)  have four tubes to pull apart and push together and that they have suction cups so you can do lots of manipulating and pretend play with them. I love that you can stick these to a variety of surfaces such as mirrors, tables, windows, airplane trays and so much more to keep kids entertained while traveling or waiting for food to arrive in a restaurant. Poptubes are a fantastic tool to work on improving grasping and manipulation skills, encourages bilateral coordination, improves hand-eye coordination all while providing both auditory and tactile sensory input. If giraffes aren’t your kid’s thing, you can search Amazon and you will find that there are tons of different options including robots, light up animals, vegetables and holiday themed tubes.

2. Bath Crayons-make the most out of bath time with these set of crayons. For anyone who knows me, I am a big fan of working on graphomotor skills in a multi-sensory way and always suggest using bath/shower time as an opportunity to do this. Typically I suggest using shaving cream on the wall of the shower to practice making different lines, shapes, letters or numbers but I love the idea of a good bath crayon so you can also work on improving grasping skills at the same time. The nice thing about this set of bath crayons is the size….they are a great length and width and encourage a tripod like grasp when using them. Another benefit of bath time drawing is that kids are working on a vertical surface which is great for improving upper extremity strength.

3. Crayola Portable Multi-Color Light Board-I’m always looking for different ways to motivate kids who resist drawing and learning how to write letters and numbers and I find that kids are motivated by bright colors and lights. This light board is a great way to get kids excited about drawing and learning and I love that you can practice without having to waste a lot of paper. Kids can draw using the 4 gel markers and then light their picture up in 10 different colors. There’s a lot I love about this light board. First of all, kids working on a vertical surface is great for encouraging a proper grasp on a writing instrument. Second of all, it’s small and easy to take with you so it can keep kids entertained while traveling, waiting at appointments or when at a restaurant. Kids can work on improving hand-eye coordination, improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills all while encouraging their creativity and imagination skills.

4. Feelings and Needs Flashcards-while this doesn’t sound like a fun gift, I think it’s something that some kids would really benefit from having at their access, especially when in situations that may cause your child may experience big feelings. The set of 25 cards is conveniently placed on a plastic ring that you can attach to a back back, stroller or easily throw into a bag. This set cards contains 25 feelings on one side while the other side shows what you might need when you are experiencing that feeling. I feel like these are a great tool to have if you have a kid who tends to get overwhelmed or overstimulated in birthday party or large group situations and may not be able to access their language to tell you how they are feeling.

5. Foosbots 2-Pack-this is an amazing gift for the sports lovers on your list this year. This mini foosball set comes with 2 Foosbots, a ball and two different colored silicone strips that are to be used for goal lines. Set the goal lines up on the table, grab your Foosbot and start playing. Kids simply have to squeeze the arms of the Foosbot to get them to kick the ball around. This is such a great toy for school-age children who are working on improving hand-eye coordination, executive functioning skills, motor planning and would benefit from working on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills. I picture this being a great toy to use in small groups for kids who need to work on improving social skills such as flexibility, being a good winner/loser and compromising on rules and game expectations.

6. GooToobz-one of my favorite sensory toy finds of 2023 and a huge hit with the kids at work. There are a variety of GooToobz to choose from
I love them because they are not only calming and can provide relaxing input, they are great for working on improving grasp strength, bilateral coordination and motor planning skills without the kids even knowing it.
**these are better for at home or in a personal sensory box for a child instead of being used in a gym setting like I work in. They will break if used too much and since they were one of the g0-to fidgets for my kids, they would break faster than they should.

7. Hide and Seek Busy Bag Characters-I have a thing for fidget toys and love when I find ones that are multi-purpose. These busy bags provide both tactile sensory input while also working on increasing grasp strength, improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourages hand-eye coordination, provides opportunities to work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills and encourages sustaining focus and attention. Each of the 12 adorable busy bags is filled with silicone beads and a bunch of little objects and letters hidden inside. Using their fingers, kids move the beads around to try and find all of the objects hidden inside. These are great to keep kids entertained while traveling or  waiting for food at a restaurant or for appointments because they are small and lightweight and can be thrown in a bag. Working on improving social skills and turn taking? Use these and have kids take turns finding the objects.

8. Jaq Jaq Bird Erasable Chalk Activity Books-I love anything that is easy to take on-the-go. Even better if it can be used over and over again. These erasable activity books by Jaq Jaq Bird are perfect to keep your little artists busy when traveling, in a restaurant or while you are getting things done around the house and need them to be kept busy. Each book (and there are TONS of different themes to choose from) comes with a fun pattern on the cover and back, 8 blank reusable paper pages, a set of their amazing butter sticks and a spot to store them in the back. All you need is a wet paper towel or a wipe to clean off the pages when they are done so they can create again and again. They are also perfect for playing games like Tic-Tac-Toe, the Dot Game or Guess the Word games. These books are not only great for working on pre-writing, drawing and grasping skills with your littles, it encourages creativity and imagination through creative play.

9. Lite Brite Touch-Lite Brite is one of the classics and as an occupational therapist, it’s a dream toy because it works on so many occupational therapy skills and goals. The problem with the Lite Bright is that sometimes the pegs are just too little and hard for some kinds with fine motor delays and it’s also not great for on-the-go play because of all those little pegs. So when I saw this Lite Brite Touch, I was so excited….still lots of the same benefits of the original Lite Brite but no little pieces to worry about. The Lite Brite Touch uses buttons instead of pegs which is great for anyone who worries about their kids putting things in their mouths. Press the buttons on the light board and watch as they light up. Keep pressing to change their colors as you create new pictures! Included with the game are easy-to-follow visual templates to make colorful pictures or kids can use their imagination and create their own picture. There are also 3 games built-in (Lite Break, Lite Match and Lite Snake) and some fun animation screens to explore. I love that there is an open-ended aspect that allows kids to make their own designs. Some of the skills that can be worked on are improving hand-eye coordination, visual scanning, finger isolation and improve executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, problem solving, task completion and improving frustration tolerance.

10. Mr. Dough-tato Head Sensory Dough Play Kit-I love any kind of sensory play and Potato Head toys so much and was so excited when I discovered this sensory play dough kit from Earth Grown Kid Doughs. Each kit comes with half a pound of homemade/organic root beer scented play dough and an assortment of face and body parts and accessories to put on your potato head. Sensory play has endless benefits but most importantly, it’s a great way to encourage creativity, problem solving and social interactions while also developing fine motor, grasping and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. One of the things I like about this sensory kit is that it also helps children work on learning about body awareness and where all the different body parts go.

11. On The Go Watercoloring Painting-I’m always looking for gifts that will be good for keeping kids entertained while on-the-go but also things that don’t require a lot of materials or take up a lot of room. These Watercolor Painting books are ideal for all of that and can work on so many occupational therapy goals. First of all, there are 5 different books to choose from with 22 pictures to paint. The cool thing about this watercolor book is that on each page, there are pigments built in to the paper so you don’t need anything other than a paint brush (included) and some water. Kids can work on improving hand-eye coordination, improve grasping skills and encourages focus, attention and creativity. Another benefit is that kids confidence and self-esteem will increase when they complete the picture.

12. Things To Do Indoors: 100 Activities-winter means more days spent inside and a higher chance you will hear “I’m bored” from your little ones. And as many parent knows, when you make a suggestion to a bored child, they will most likely tell you they don’t feel like doing that. This tube contains 100 different activities including gross motor, crafts, games, projects and more will certainly keep your kids entertained. Pick a card out of the tube and if they don’t feel like doing that one, have them flip it upside down (there are colored tabs on the top of each card for different categories) so they don’t choose that card again. Some of the activities included in the tube are making an obstacle course, make a town out of tape, play charades and making a calm down jar. In addition to the prompts, this activity set comes with a book with clear instructions for each of the 100 activities. This is great because there are so many opportunities to work on improving fine motor, gross motor and visual motor/perceptual skills.

13. Reusable Water Balloons-do you have a kid who gives you a hard time at bath time? These reusable water balloons just might be a great solution to that. Easy to fill and a quick and tight magnetic seal makes these perfect for bath play. I love how many occupational therapy skills and goals can be worked on when using them and can think of a bunch of things to do with them to make them even more therapeutic. You can use bath markers or crayons and make a target for kids to aim for to work on improving hand-eye coordination, motor planning and visual motor skills. To work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, have them place little animals inside the balloon as they are filling them up. The set of six balloons comes in a mesh storage bag to prevent getting moldy.

14. Sticker Painting-these paint by sticker books have been a huge favorite with my older preschooler and school age kids for years and years and I love that they don’t even realize how many occupational therapy skills/goals they are working on. Each book comes with 12 different pictures to complete and kids have to match the stickers to the correct numbers on the template. These are great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination and develops executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organizational skills, planning and improving frustration tolerance. In the end, the amount of confidence the kids have from completing their picture is huge.

15. Stampies-I love when a toy can be used in a variety of ways and Stampies does just that. The set comes with 15 interchangeable adorable animal stamps, I rubber wood stamper and a stainless steel cookie cutter and can be used with playdough, washable paints, stamp pads and even for making cookies. When I pull these out at work, the kids can spend an entire session playing with them and they don’t even realize how many skills they are working on, they just love seeing all the different animals either on the playdough or when using it as a stamp to create little animal scenes. Some of the developmental skills that can be worked on when using Stampies is improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve motor planning and problem solving when changing out the stamps, improves hand-eye coordination, encourages bilateral coordination and you can work on improving coloring skills by having them color in the animals.

16. Seek and Find Activity Cards-I have loved hidden picture games for as long as I can remember starting with the days of Highlights Magazine….it was the first thing I would look for when the magazine arrived. Now as an occupational therapist, hidden picture games are used all the time in sessions, especially with my kids who need to work on various visual skills. Seek and find games are not only fun and challenging, they work on improving visual motor, visual tracking and visual scanning skills. They are also a good way to work on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and improving frustration tolerance. In this adorable set from Ooly, there are 24 different cards, each with a different theme. A nice bonus of this on-the-go activity set is that on the back of each card, there are a handful of tic-tac-toe boards to play with friends, siblings or grownups in your kiddos life.

17. Fun Water Game-I absolutely love when toys from my childhood make a comeback so when I saw these water game toys, I knew it had to make this year’s list. I can remember spending hours and hours playing with a much bigger version of this game and feeling so excited when the rings actually made it on the poles. Little did I know that years and years later I would have a job that playing with toys and it would help children develop important skills and that I would get to re-live my childhood a bit. These Fun Water Game are a dream toy for an occupational therapist because they work on SO many skills and goals while also keeping kids entertained without a screen. The Fun Water Game toy is great for working on improving hand-eye coordination and bilateral coordination skills, improves grasping skills, encourages focus, attention and improving frustration tolerance.

18. Pop It Pro-I randomly found this while shopping in Target last year and a year later, it’s still one of the favorite fine motor toys for my older preschoolers and school-age kids. It’s a cross between a pop-it fidget toy and a fast paced game and for as simple as it is, it can keep some of my kids entertained for such a long time. What kids don’t realize is that they are working on SO many skills and goals which is why it is making my list again this year. There are 3 ways to play including solo player blitz and a multiplayer mode (which I have not really used) and as kids beat each level, it gets more challenging. The goal of the game is to pop the lit up bubbles as quickly as possible and then push the back of the game to reset the board. Pop It Pro is a great way to work on improving hand-eye coordination, improves bilateral coordination, works on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, inhibition, planning and frustration tolerance all while providing some really satisfying tactile and auditory input.

19. Silly Charades Card Game-charades is a great game for families to play all together and is great for working on so many skills. First of all, it encourages creativity and imagination skills which is something that many of the kids I work with have trouble with. Secondly, it’s a wonderful way to help work on improving planning and problem solving skills in a fun and playful way. Additionally, it can work on improving social skills encouraging teamwork, collaboration and taking turns. I love this set from Hello! Lucky that comes with 30 illustrated cards and a timer. The oversized cards are great for giving a prompt on actions the kids can do while playing.

20. Plus Plus Blocks Play Tubes-these have been a staple on my gift guide for years and years and will probably continue to be for years ahead. Many of the suggestions on this list you will see are good for on-the-go entertainment and Plus-Plus blocks are perfect for that. These are intended to be an open-ended building toy that encourages creativity and imagination skills while working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination and improves planning and organizational skills. There are tons of different color schemes to choose from and some even come ideas that you can build by going onto their website and following step-by-step directions.

21. Stampville Stamp Set-sometimes I have kids who are super creative but lack confidence in their drawing skills because of their fine motor delays. Holding crayons and markers are tricky and sometimes their ideas don’t always come out on paper like they see them in their heads. That’s why I love this stamp set that encourages creativity and imagination without all the drawing. This set comes with 25 wood-backed stamps that have different shapes, sizes and textures that allow you to create houses, towns and villages without having to worry about the actual drawing. Kids can add in details and color everything in which will encourage grasping and graphomotor skills. This can also be a fun activity for a small group activity…..give each kid a few stamps and one large piece of paper and see what they can make together and how they can collaborate and problem solve.

22. Tegu Pocket Pouch-I have loved all Tegu magnetic blocks for as long as I can remember and even though my daughter has outgrown playing with them, I still have a giant box of them in my basement for whenever we have younger guests over. I have always included Tegu blocks on my gift guides because they are great for children who might have fine motor or coordination difficulties because they are easier to manipulate. This 8-piece block set comes in an industrial strength felt pouch which makes it great for taking on-the-go when traveling or going out to eat. Tegu blocks encourage creativity and imagination while working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and improves hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills.

23. Ooly Sticker Scenes-Ooly has been a long time favorite of mine and they keep just getting better and better. One of the things I love most about this company is that they have a variety of crafting materials and kits that are affordable and can be adapted for children with different skill levels. These sticker scenes sets are one of my new favorite things and I have loved seeing how successful so many of my kids who struggle with fine motor and visual motor and visual perceptual skills have been. There are two different sets to choose from, Farmer’s Market and In The Forest, and each one comes with 12 different scenes with sheets of stickers for each scene to fill in the blank spaces. This activity is perfect for preschoolers (but my kindergartners love them too!) who need to work on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, work on improving bilateral coordination skills and work on improving visual motor, visual perceptual and matching skills. In addition to all of the aforementioned skills, I’ve loved seeing how proud my little friends are after they complete the picture scenes.

24. Tiny Robots!-I love all of these Tiny Kits from SmartLab Toys (my first and favorite one was the Tiny Baking Kit my daughter was given a couple of years ago) because you can do so many things with them and without kids even knowing, there are so many chances to work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye coordination skills and to work on developing executive functioning skills. If you have a school-age kiddo who loves STEAM based activities, this Tiny Robots Kit is perfect. It comes with a variety of axles, wheels, arms, legs and gears that you can mix and match to create the cutest robots that can walk, roll, crawl, spin and so much more. The set comes with directions for 15 robots but it also encourages kids to mix and match the pieces to make their own robot creations. This can also be a really good activity to do with siblings or if you run small social skills groups to work on turn-taking, compromising and flexibility.

25. Twee Veggie Paints-I have loved the adorable chalk sets from Twee forever and was excited when I saw they had developed their own line of paints. There are two sets of colors (Winter Set and Spring Set) with three tins of powder paint and a specially designed paintbrush meant for those little hands. By mixing 1 teaspoon of powder with 2 teaspoons of water, you make your own eco-friendly, non-toxic and washable paints. Depending on if you want to use it as finger paints or watercolor, you add more water. These paints can be used on a variety of surfaces including watercolor paper, canvas or regular paper. There are so many occupational therapy skills and goals that can be worked on using paint. You can work on improving graphomotor skills and practice making different lines, shapes, letters, numbers by painting instead of using crayons/markers/pencil. If you have a child with tactile defensiveness, make the finger paints for some sensory exploration. Need to work on increasing. upper body strength and shoulder stability? Have your child paint on an easel because working on an incline surface is great for increasing upper body strength and encourages wrist extension which will encourage a more appropriate grasp on the paintbrush.

















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