It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Between all the parties, baking, cooking, decorating – we also have to find time to shop for the perfect gifts for everyone on our list. This can prove to be a challenging task! For our kids, we not only want to pick a gift they will love, but we also may want to pick a gift that could target skills they are working on and support their developmental or sensory needs as well.
For this post, I chose ten toys/gifts to highlight, and there’s a few extra recommendations thrown in too. I will include a link to the toy and some reasons why I think it’s great. I included recommended age ranges, but it is also important to consider other developmental factors. For example, some of the tactile items listed below could potentially be choking hazards, so even if the child is chronologically within the recommended age, it is important to ensure that he or she will be able to engage with the toy safely. Everything on this list is under $100, with most items being much more affordable. I linked mostly to Target and Amazon, but many of these toys and other amazing gifts will be available at your local toy stores too.
Let’s get started!
1. Bristle Blocks
- Price: $17.99 at Target, click here to view
- Age range: 2 and up
- Why they are great: These are a huge hit with preschoolers and have so many awesome therapeutic possibilities too! They have a fun texture and require a some shoulder and hand strength to push together and pull apart. You can encourage the child to play with them in different positions, on his tummy or in tall kneeling at a table to work on core strength. You can encourage a child to reach across midline for a block and then use two hands together to build a structure. The possibilities are endless, which is why this is such a great find!
2. Kinetic Sand
- Price: 19.99 at Target, click here to view. Other variations available.
- Age range: 3 and up
- Why it’s great: Kinetic sand is so fun. It has a different texture than regular sand. This specific option feels more like wet beach sand. Kids will get more resistance when playing with it, which is great for hand strength. You can encourage the child to create different play schemes, and some kinetic sand kits come with different tools to scoop, dig and create structures. This is an awesome option for sensory seekers and for fostering creativity.
- Price: $30 at Target, click here to view
- Age Range: manufacturer recommends 6 and up, but would be appropriate for younger children with supervision
- Why it’s great: Working on a vertical surface is a great way to develop shoulder strength and also puts your forearm and wrist in a good position for writing. It is a super common for an OT to recommend that a child try writing on a vertical surface to develop these important skills, so an easel is a wonderful gift! I like this easel not only because it folds up for easy storage, but there is a chalkboard side, dry erase side and you can clip on paper. Therefore a child can explore using different materials, like paintbrushes, crayons or markers, dot markers, dry erase markers/crayons, magnetic alphabet letters (all of these items could be great stocking stuffers!). Again – endless possibilities make this a great choice!
4. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (and other assorted fidgets)
- Price: $10 – $15, click here to view one option. Other varieties available.
- Age range: 8 and up, small pieces are a choking hazard for younger children
- Why it’s great: It can be hard to find options for older kids, but this is one. There are many varieties of this putty, some glow in the dark and some even have magnetic features. You can use the magnet to make different shapes with the putty. This stuff is great for hand strengthening and fostering creativity. It could even be used as a fidget to help older kids focus while doing homework. Speaking of fidgets, I came across an entire display of fidgets for older kids while in Target. Check out this Tangle fidget and this fidget cube !
5. Lite Brite
- Price: $14.99 at Target, click here to view
- Age range: 4 and up, small parts can be a choking hazard
- Why it’s great: You can work on so many skills with this toy. It provides awesome visual input. Picking up the pegs and placing them on the board requires fine motor coordination and visual motor skills. Following the pattern for the picture also requires visual scanning skills, motor planning and sustained attention to the task. Another fun option!
- Price: $99.99 for 74pc set, click here to view. Other options available.
- Age range: 3 and up
- Why they are great: My boys LOVE their Magnatiles. While they are a little pricey, they are totally worth it. This is a toy that truly encourages my boys’ creativity. They are always coming up with new ideas and things to build with their Magnatiles. They play in all different positions and they will sometimes even work together to create their masterpieces. I have never met anyone who bought these and wasn’t satisfied.
- Price: approximately $1 – $20, links included below
- Age range: all ages!
- Why they are great: Ah, puzzles. Such an awesome gift for kids of all ages. Completing a puzzle requires so many important skills such as attention to task, visual scanning, visual perceptual skills, in-hand manipulation skills, and can even be a social activity as well. For babies and toddlers, try the simple large wooden inset puzzles like this. For early childhood students, try interlocking puzzles like this. Floor puzzles are a great option to encourage students to get into different positions! As students get into elementary and middle school, you can look to increase the amount of pieces in the puzzle. Working on puzzles can be really calming for adults too and can be a great age appropriate rec/leisure option for some of our older students. You can find some awesome puzzles at the Dollar Store too!
8. Fold Up Trampoline
- Price: $69.99 at Target, click here to view
- Age range: 3-6 years, holds up to 55lbs
- Why it’s great: This trampoline will be your best friend during the long winter months! My boys have this trampoline and I love that it folds up to be stored away when we aren’t using it. Trampolines are awesome for getting proprioceptive and vestibular sensory input. This is a great gift for a sensory seeker who just needs to move! You can work on counting or letters by having the child jump on the trampoline and count or say the alphabet at the same time.
- Price: $19.99 at Target, click here to view
- Age range: manufacturer recommends 4 and up, but younger children may enjoy with appropriate supervision
- Why it’s great: A tunnel can be played with in so many ways. It can be good for a sensory avoider who just wants to escape. It encourages crawling, which is a super important developmental skill. You can use the tunnel as part of a multi-step obstacle course that works on motor planning skills. I love that these tunnels fold up for storage as well, even if it can be a bit tricky to do.
- Price: options listed range from $8-$25, links included below
- Age range: all ages!
- Why they are great: Games are a fantastic way to work on a ton of important skills. They are fun for people of all ages! Playing a game requires social communication, cooperation, turn taking and attention. Some games have additional components that make them even better from an OT perspective. For example, this game is great for toddlers learning to following directions. Pop the Pig, Pop up Pirate and Sneaky Snacky Squirrel are early childhood favorites that require fine motor strength and coordination. Jenga is a great option for elementary aged students as it requires hand eye coordination and fine motor control. For middle school and older, Telestrations is a super fun way to work on drawing, communication and critical thinking skills. There are so many choices out there, you are bound to find a game that works for your child!
Obviously there are so many more toys and gifts out there that you will encounter in stores or while perusing Amazon this holiday season and it can be very easy to get overwhelmed. The American Occupational Therapy Association has this awesome checklist that can help! If you can answer ‘yes’ to many of the questions on the list, then you are probably making a good toy purchase.
I hope some of these suggestions are helpful. I’d love to hear what you are buying for your kids this holiday season!