The holiday season is coming, which means it’s gift giving season for many families!
With many places still undergoing lockdown/COVID precautions, some children (and their parents) might benefit more than ever from receiving toys related to their development. This week we’re chatting about occupational therapy (OT) related items that children would be excited to receive, and might help parents progress with their child’s development.
Whenever someone that I am speaking with asks about items they can buy for their children to help with their development and OT goals, I always like to preface my answer with the idea that every child is different. There is not one specific item that will help every child with their sensory needs/emotional regulation/mindfulness/motor development etc… but you know your child best so use your judgement! Some of the simplest gifts can have some wonderful benefits to children’s growth.
Play dough kit with accessories
Playdough is definitely a favourite development tool amongst OTs! Playing with playdough gives kids an opportunity to be creative, while also developing fine motor skills, hand and arm strength and dexterity which can help with prewriting and handwriting skills. Playdough can also be calming for some children who have sensory needs! The beauty of playdough is that you can make your own DIY version which is easy peezy and safe for younger kiddos! All you need are some cookie cutters and a little rolling pin to create endless hours of fun! Here is my favourite homemade playdough recipe!
Kinetic sand is a fan favourite for a lot of OTs. Similar to playdough, this squishy sand-like substance is easily moldable like sand when squeezed, but almost melts when released! Squishy, not wet but has the properties of wet sand as it sticks to itself and can be built into sand sculptures! Kinetic sand can be therapeutic for children with sensory needs and can help develop fine motor skills as children squish and build with the sand. There are some activity ideas here for using this sand therapeutically!
Puzzles are a great quiet activity for all ages that can be done independently or with family and friends! Completing a puzzle requires many important skills such as attention to tasks, visual perceptual skills, in-hand manipulation skills, visual scanning and can be a social activity if done with others. As long as the puzzle is the appropriate skill level, they can also be a fun, calming activity to unwind!
Beads and string
A simple activity for fine motor skill development, is stringing beads. There are plenty of large bead sets for younger toddler and preschool aged children, but for older children you can just get plastic string and beads to make friendship bracelets! Children need to use pinch grip to pick up the beads, use their strength to keep them in their hands, and use eye hand coordination to string it onto the string. Kids also are able to work on bimanual control (using both hands in an activity), as they use one hand to hold the string and one hand to string the bead on! An activity that can be lots of fun, a family affair, and a nice way for older kids to make some meaningful gifts!
I’ve spoken about the benefits of colouring before in a previous post, but colouring tools are always a timeless OT favourite! There are loads of age appropriate choices for markers, crayons, pencil crayons, colouring books and colouring print offs (you can make a DIY colouring book)! Water Reveal Activity Pads are also a fun colouring activity – the pages are filled with colour which is activated by the water pen for no mess, no stress colouring!
Games for the family
Multiplayer games are a fantastic way to work on tons of important skills and are fun for all ages! Playing a game requires social communication, cooperation, turn taking and attention. Depending on the game, some may have additional components that make them OT related! For example, Snug as a Bug in a Rug! is a cute multiplayer game for children 3+ that can be used for turn taking, identification of colours and numbers, and cooperation with others. Jenga is a great option for elementary aged students as it requires hand eye coordination and fine motor control. Quick Cups (pictured above) is a fun family game that involves motor coordination, memory, patterning, visual perception, sorting and lots of laughs! Telestrations is a super fun family game to work on pencil skills, communication and critical thinking skills for children who are a bit older. I Spy Eagle Eye is a fun brain exercise to practice visual scanning, and working as a team to find the items! These are just a few favourites, but there are so many choices out there, you are bound to find a game that works for your child!
With kiddos being stuck inside lately (especially with winter coming), if you have the financial means to look into getting a bouncy toy for your child might be a saving grace! Bouncy toys give kids, especially our sensory seekers, a chance to move and jump while staying inside the house. Go-to bouncers include mini trampoline with handle, hippity hop ball, and Rody the hoping horse. And here are some more gift ideas to help get kids moving on Mama OT’s blog!
Osmo iPad Program
If you’re willing to spend a bit more money on a gift, Osmo is an iPad/Amazon Fire add-on kit, with different games to play. Depending on the game bundle you choose, the kit comes with game pieces, a stand and camera mirror so that what the child moves around with the pieces interacts with the characters on the screen. The Osmo games can be used to work on handwriting/prehandwriting skills, spelling, sentence writing, counting, fine motor skills, memory, visual motor integration and more! Definitely an OT gift of choice!
At the end of the day, my recommendations are always to work with your child’s interests and the activities they like to do to increase their engagement, and this will naturally help support their development. For example, if your child loves drawing pictures but would despise the feeling of playdough in their hands (some definitely do!), skip out on the playdough and get them some fun markers that they can draw and write with! This will give them the excitement and encouragement to get drawing or writing which will help their development of hand strength, grip strength, dexterity etc. Remember, just like with many things in life, OT recommended gifts are definitely not one size fits all!
If you have any suggestions for gifts, please share them down below! And if you have any questions for specific recommendations for your child, feel free to reach out ! Happy shopping/DIY-ing!