The holidays are just around the corner–can you believe it? It’s the time of year when many of the families with whom we work ask for recommendations of toys, games, and creative gifts that are fun for kids, but also help develop motor and/or speech and language skills. In our line of work, we get to play with some pretty fun stuff, so we thought it might be helpful to provide a list of some of our tried and true favorites as well as some of the latest and greatest. Most of these can be found on Amazon.com or at many local toy stores.
Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!
Games!!! Games are a great way to work on turn-taking, social rules, fine motor, counting, colors, beginning reading, vision, and the integration of many skills. Here are a few of our “go to” games:
A super fun game that encourages hand-eye coordination, fine motor skill development, and sequencing. Kids love using various knobs, dials, and levers to maneuver a marble through an obstacle course involving a suspension bridge, tunnels, and more. They can either try to race against the clock using a timer, or simply take their time without a timed option. Something about this game seems to bring out patience and tolerance in even the most impulsive kiddos. Best of all- no batteries required. Just good old-fashioned fun!
A great game to get kids moving and listening! Simply throw the 16 vinyl mats on the floor and press play on the magic Hullabaloo machine. Follow the instructions to have some silly fun! Kids get their wiggles out by jumping, spinning, hopping, and zooming, all the while working on their colors, shapes, categories, and ability to follow multi-step directions.
This standard game in most therapy clinics works on fine motor skill development, especially pincer grasp….and kids love it!!! Players take turns removing little sticks positioned inside a tube, trying not to let the marbles resting on tip to tumble down. It takes a little time to set up, but even the set-up helps develop fine motor skills by encouraging the kids to grasp the sticks and position them through little holes to create a “nest” for the marbles. It also works on motor-planning, problem solving, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. There are similar games out there with the same concept of removing sticks carefully, including Pallina (a wooden version by Hape) Honey Bee and Tumblin’ Monkeys.
This game is great for descriptive language and using your tactile senses. Without being able to see what you are feeling, you have to find the piece of clothing that is in the washing machine and matches the picture on a card. This game also offers an excellent way to work on possessive pronouns, as each article of clothing belongs to some animal on the card. But look out- because you don’t want to get the “skunk’s underpants”!!
The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel
This family fun game combines counting, strategy and fine motor skills to help a squirrel collect acorns. You have to pinch the squirrels’ paws together to help him get his acorns, which works on grasp strength. This is also a great game for practicing the /s/ sound and /s/ blends. You’ll actually find that you won’t mind if your kids ask to play this cute game again and again, and even your older children will enjoy playing with the younger children.
This is a great game for beginning readers and for building sight word vocabulary. It is by the same makers as Zingo and is fun for large groups. It works on sound and word recognition as well as speed and processing. The slider machine encourages the player to use two hands (bilateral coordination) and provides great entertainment.
This is a card game that works on the concept of greater than and less than. It is modeled after the old card game of “war” but uses the food chain of the ocean to model the concept.
This game works on sequencing, memory, and concepts. It also is great for fine motor skills. You follow directions from your favorite princesses’ recipes to build a variety of little cupcakes that have 4 pieces; cup, cake, frosting, and topper.
How about digging up an oldie but goodie? You can make many variations when playing this game, but what kid doesn’t love spinning the spinner and getting all twisted up? It is a great game for working on left and right.
This is a great game for working on social skills and improving speech and language skills through descriptive concepts, questions and visualization. It’s a quick question game of “what am I”, but what makes it particularly fun and silly for kids (and grown-ups!) is that you wear the “what am I” card on a headband on top of your head! It is best for ages 7+, but can be adapted for younger.
Spot It, Tell Tale, Shrimp Cocktail and SpeeDeeBee- These great new card games by Blue-Orange company are fun, quick, and an incredible workout for the brain! Great for all ages!!
Great Sensory Toys:
This is a fantastic sensory play material that stretches and moves and holds its shape when molded. It’s different from moon sand and other similar products. It kind of feels like cotton candy or cookie dough, but it’s dry to the touch. Intrigued? So are kids!!!
Play- Doh Dr. Drill & Fill
This is a great pretend dentist game that can be used to introduce a trip to the dentist, or to increase awareness of teeth, tongue, and mouth. The tools included in the set also help encourage coordination of the hands because kids need to stabilize the teeth with one hand while they use the battery operated drill, or tweezers to “extract” teeth. And any activity with tweezers is an excellent way to encourage fine motor skills and the pincer grasp.
Sensory Diet Cards
This deck of cards provides sensory activities that teach children to regulate their sensory system. This set also makes a great gift for a classroom teacher. (Available through www.superduperinc.com)
Creative, Fun, Homemade Gifts!
Build a Fort Kit
Kids love to build forts in the house. It makes a great gift if you collect items for this purpose. You can give large clamps, Styrofoam twist ties, pipe insulation tubes, and a couple of sheets or blankets. Package them up in a laundry basket that can also be used in the fort-building process.
Make a ticket booth out of a large cardboard box. You can paint it, decorate it, or customize it for your child. A roll of paper tickets can be purchased at the dollar store or Walmart. This activity will provide hours of creative fun. They can set up a ticket booth for a ski area, magic show, puppet show, or for movie night. Give it with a package of popcorn and the roll of tickets for a complete gift.
Buy a bunch of spray bottles at the dollar store or hardware store. Package them up with a box of food coloring. You can mix up various colors and spray designs in the snow, which kids love! The magic in this activity—squeezing a spray bottle helps children’s’ hands get stronger and helps with the development of the open web space needed for such skills as holding a pencil efficiently.
Books with Props
You can collect the animals, figures, or items that go along with a great story. Putting on plays and repeating lines from stories is a great memory and language activity. Some story recommendations include; “Bear Snores On”, “The Mitten”, “Click Clack, Moo”, “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” (and other variations).
Pretend Hairdresser/Barber Shop
You can put together a pretend shop with shaving cream, towels, brushes, and pretend makeup or blow driers. A plastic colander turned upside down on your head makes a great “beauty shop drier”. Working in an around the head can help reduce sensitivity to the head and mouth and can reduce anxiety that may come for some kids with activities such as a haircut or tooth brushing.
How about turning a giant cardboard box into a gingerbread house, a spaceship, or safari jeep? Sometimes the box makes the best present.
A personalized calendar is a great gift for kids. Use some of your favorite photos from adventures throughout the year, which helps encourage kids to remember and then discuss events of the past. Giving them the opportunity to see upcoming holidays and events on their own calendar allows them to work on planning and sequencing skills.
Make a pretend mailbox to keep in their room or just outside their bedroom door. A painted shoebox on mounted on top of a wrapping paper tube makes the perfect one! Leave notes about meals, family activities, or even some simple pictures to give clues about what will be happening that day.
Other Fun Toys We Recommend:
Mini Kick Scooter
(also called Mini Micro Scooter on some sites, made by Micro-Mobility, Switzerland)
In general, scooters are great because they promote coordination, sensory regulation, balance, motor planning, and overall body strengthening. But many scooters are pretty tricky for kids to get the hang of, because of the balance element involved as they try to push with one foot while leaving the other foot balanced on the baseboard. The Mini Kick is different. Even younger children can use it safely, since there are two wheels in the front and one in the back, which helps with balance. The ‘lean-to-steer’ design allows kids to use their body weight to control the steering, so they’ll be ‘surfing’ the sidewalk, as they gently curve from right to left. There’s an immediate sense of accomplishment and success when kids try this scooter. There is now also now a Mini 3-in-1 scooter, that ‘grows’ with children from age 1 through age 5. It offers three age-appropriate styles of ride, starting with a ride-on seat at age 1, a scooter with short O-bar steering option at age 2, and then the Mini Micro 3-wheel kickboard scooter with T-bar for ages 3-5 (up to 44 pounds).
Musical instruments you play by whacking on something. Check out the Christmas video on YouTube by searching Boomwhackers Christmas Song! (Available through Amazon)
Snap-on Dolls by Fisher Price
These are excellent toys for language and fine motor because there are so many pieces to dress them in and it opens up lots of options for pretend play.
Wall Roller Coaster
Sticks on the wall with safe adhesives and is like a giant marble run on the wall of your room. Great for motor planning.
Great for rhythm and can inspire many creative uses
This giant, quality, over-sized bean bag is one of our favorite tools, offering a “crash pad” opportunity or comfy relaxation. www.yogibo.com
There are truly so many great products and ideas out there; our hope is that this list at least offers some suggestions and guidance. It’s nice that so many toys and games serve as excellent tools for speech and language, motor and sensory development. Our biggest wish for all families, though, in the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, is to find the most important tool of all—time with your kids.
We like to remind families of one of our favorite holiday quotes:
“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.” -Dr. Seuss
Happy holidays to you and your family!