A note from Nadereh:
I love the excitement this time of year brings in everyone I see. I look at every new year as life gifting me with an opportunity for a do-over. I am given a chance to have different perspectives on old thoughts and ideas and reflect on what did and did not work in the previous year.
As a season of gift giving is near, with a happy smile on my face, I’d like to remind you that before purchasing new toys you should clear the existing toy bins, chests, and closets to make room for all the new arrivals. You can donate the ones that are still in good working condition to your local charity. This year would also be a good year to add a new tradition to your holiday giving, by having your child donate one of their toys to a local charity for a child less fortunate than them.
This year has been a great year and I feel so fortunate to have an amazing team working with me and wonderful caring parents supporting us. One of our parents, Betsy, asked to write this year’s toy blog and I happily accepted. Her thoughts and great toy ideas are at the beginning of this post, followed by ones chosen by each member of our Excel Care Therapy team. A big thank you to Betsy, Cami, Kristine, Michael and Natalie for your thoughtful ideas!
You may have heard this saying: play is the work of childhood. Toys are the child’s tools and means to make sense of the world around them. This time of the year many of us are thinking about the children in our lives and how to reward and enrich them. When choosing gifts and designing spaces for young people, we should make sure our choices support that work of play without clouding our judgment with commercialism, convenience, competition, or an eye to future promises of greatness in academics or career. When toys are too great in number or demanding of attention, they can interfere with our child’s peace of mind as well as our own.
Nadereh has written in the past about limiting exposure to electronic toys and screen time. As parents and caregivers, we need to balance giving our children our attention by providing them with independent learning time and our own need for space and order.
For Ages 0+
Your baby and your toddler’s first toy, first teacher, and first love is you. Gift them with your time. This millennial dad went viral for talking to his 19 month-old baby, not only sweet but helping his child’s brain grow. They are actually watching TV together and practicing sharing attention and experience.
Move and Groove Game – These soft dice games are so fun, you could begin rolling and throwing well before a child’s first birthday and enjoy full gameplay when your child is ready to interpret the cheery, clear pictures on the cards. It really has everything you would want in a first game: colors, throwing, turn taking, movement and silliness, perfect for developing brains and vocabularies.
Tot tube – The ultimate cause and effect machine, the window in this tube makes it more fun than a cardboard or PVC tube. As it has a nice large opening, pair this with some larger balls to make it safe for little ones, but it will be usable for years with smaller cars, craft pom poms, LEGO — no limits. Use Tot Tube with key words like “bigger, smaller, fastest, up, down, inside, out. ” Comes apart for storage.
For Ages 3+
A rich preschool play environment does not have to start from scratch with all-wooden toys and rainbow scarves: take inventory, clear space, and see what you can add to already favorite things.
Toobs (for age 3+ or children who do not mouth toys) are very versatile and come in many varieties, from space vehicles to feathered dinosaurs (available online as well as in craft stores like Michaels or Joann). These small items can be squished in kinetic sand or play dough, treated to a bath in water beads or bubbles, stuffed in pockets and added to play scenarios in the park or backyard. They are easily shareable and recognizable to peers, inviting important moments of shared imagination.
CAT Little Machines – These always draw a crowd to the sandbox and are inexpensive, portable, and durable.
Alphabots Now that toy stores are harder to come by, Lakeshore Learning is a great resource for something a bit different. This set offers fine motor problem solving and imaginary play as well as letter recognition, superior to talking toys and flashcards. Each bot can double as a fidget and they are extremely sturdy.
Arts and Crafts for all ages
Children should have access to art supplies daily but also be responsible for caring for them and cleaning them up. Here are a few that are a bit different to add to your collection.
Wishy-Washy Markers – Drawing on vertical surfaces like big windows or white boards promotes vital crossbody coordination and is just amazingly fun, even for reluctant writers.You can use any dry-erase marker but these neon colors are extra fun.
For Ages 5+
Games and crafts are great for this age group.
Paint by Sticker – This a calming activity and fine motor practice.
Race to the Treasure – Many are familiar with the Peacable Kingdom cooperative games for younger kids like Count Your Chickens, but this uses the same principal for a strategy game for older kids.
Natalie’s Gift Suggestions:
Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Toys – Creativity Beyond Imagination – Easy to construct and easy to put away for storage. Can create all kinds of 2d plane shapes or 3d geometric structures, can combine shapes to create different shapes for example house, pentagram, heart shape, windmill, airplane, ball etc.
The Original BUDDHA BOARD – Easy to Use: Simply fill the stand with water. Then dip in the bamboo brush (included) & start drawing, painting & writing. You’ll create soft, beautiful images with a rich, inky Japanese look. Appreciate your creation in the moment, and then as the water evaporates and your masterpiece slowly fades away, practice the art of letting go.
LCD Writing Tablet,Electronic Writing &Drawing Board – With LCD Writing Tablet, children can freely release their natural instincts, enjoy painting, count numbers, spell words at any time and place without no longer making a mess on the ground or walls. The writing tablet surface creates lines of different thickness based on how hard you push, just like writing on paper with a pen or pencil!
Kristine’s Gift Suggestions:
There’s a bell that rings, a log that swings, a mini ball track, and more – By the time the last block is set in place, you’ll be jittering from head to toe with anticipation! Tedious creativity sparks an uproar of wonder when kids start exploring and building with the wooden Zoo-Ominoes set.
Puzzles of all kinds are important for improving attention, problem solving skills and hand eye coordination! This USATDD Wooden Tetris Puzzle is great for children of all ages. These puzzle pieces are very colorful and will keep kids very engaged. For younger children and children or others who would need more help completing it, put the puzzle together leaving a few pieces out allowing them to fill in the empty spaces using the remaining puzzle pieces.
The 32-Piece Cabin Fort is a blast building your fort no matter what it looks like! Invent as you go—this cool kit’s connectable wood-look panels bring your fantasy fort to life right before your eyes. This set can be used indoors and outdoors reducing any restriction on your imagination.
Michael’s Gift Suggestions:
The Ultimate Fort Builder – This product is wonderful for creativity and promotes a sense of adventure. It’s described as very sturdy and well made. Children of all ages can work together to build forts for imaginative play, sleep overs, reading centers, and so much more! This product has so many possibilities!
Skoolzy Creative Brain Building Toy – This 500 snowflake connecting construction kit is a great “brain toy” as it encourages constructing and engineering while boosting fine motor skills. The multi-dimensional shapes allow for endless possibilities of creation. The colors support skills like counting, grouping, and sorting as well.
Magnetic Creation Station – This toy is engaging while strengthening your child’s visual perception. The fun colorful pieces encourage skills like grouping, counting, matching, and designing.
Cami’s Gift Suggestions:
Boon Building Bath Pipes – This little set is perfect for toddlers who are active at bath time. Sensory play is very important at this age so providing your little one the tools to splash around and enjoy bath time is a must! The colorful pipes attract children’s attention and encourages water-play on the wall side of the tub thus keeping the water inside the tub instead of all over the bathroom floor! Boon also sells suction Gears that are similar to the water pipes.
Thinking Putty – Allows children to play at home, school, work, in the car… anywhere! With no batteries or instructions, your child’s own creativity is free to flow. Great for stress relief, mindfulness, fine motor skill development, and good old-fashioned fun. Thinking Putty is safe, nontoxic, and will never dry out. Stretchable, sculptable, bounceable fun for everyone ages 3 and up.
**You could make your own safe and environmentally safe putty using 8 ounces Elmer’s glue to one tablespoon baking soda and one to two tablespoons of contact saline solution and a favorite food coloring. Here is a link for more DIY recipes and step-by-step directions.
We also highly recommend using environmentally friendly ingredients to make your own playdough using one of our favorite DIY Playdough recipes. While poking, rolling, and squishing playdough, children develop the small muscles in their fingers and hands. Development of these fine motor skills can assist in writing skills during school years. Playdough also provides children with a blank canvas that they are then able to mold and create something unique every time they get their hands on it. Even if your child replicates something they’ve already seen, their creation will always be different.
- The Grow ‘n Glow Terrarium– Where science meets art, and now your child can have both at their green fingertips! This gift is great for children 6 years and up and combines both the wonder of science and the fun of art and self expression all in one.
Some more of our favorites
In the Town All Year Round– This is a one-of-a-kind book that features carefully illustrated scenes with recurring characters throughout the four seasons. It’s oversized, and great for independent exploration as well as adult interaction. So many questions to ask and stories to tell!
The Chupacabra Ate the Candelabra – Rhyming is important for developing speech sound awareness and early reading skills. Beyond Dr. Seuss, this is a fun, local interest book which would be a great gift.
We often see many of our clients looking through our Highlights magazines in our lobby as they are waiting to be seen. The Highlight motto is “Fun with a Purpose”. In every 40-page issue, kids explore new topics, investigate fascinating subjects and find out more about the world around them. The magazines can also include recipes, science experiments, puzzles, and so much more! Because these magazines come in a monthly subscription, you can give your child the gift that keeps giving.
Stuffed animals, blankets, pillows, and beanbags are not just fun and cuddly, they help kids with sensory processing differences self-regulate.
Stuffed animal storage bean bag – This multitasking item provides a fun crash pad but also is a clutterbuster, many options on Amazon.
Cub coat – If your child resists wearing coats, this cuddly pal might convince them otherwise, and is a high-quality soft cotton hoodie. Bonus features: folding and zipper practice, and the resulting pal is solid and weighted for a calming snuggle.
Pillofort offers a variety of cozy and calming animal style hooded blankets that promote imaginative play. Each blanket is made with a fuzzy microplush construction for lightweight softness and warmth.
Let the fun carry into the warmer months with these fun character-like style Super Blanky
Target has a new line of sensory aware room accessories to supplement the adaptive clothing line that came out a few years ago. Each of the items listed below are designed as a support to help children of all ages achieve a sense of equilibrium and calm. Here are some Weighted Pillows and Weighted Blankets!
I love these for anyone who needs a little help to calm themselves and fall and stay asleep through the night.
A great way for everyone to safely get their wiggles out by jumping on this amazing mat.
Canopies and tents are great for imaginative play and a calm and secure place for a quiet time when the world around your child becomes too overwhelming. Sleeping in a tent or a canopy has been found to be helpful for a restless body to calm and rest.
We love this for no reason other than that we LOVE rocking chairs and this one is made for kids!!!!
Children learn to take turns, initiate, cooperate and make decisions through group play, so it’s always best to pick games that everyone can participate in playing. You could always modify these games and make them easier for younger kids or kids who might need extra support.
Family Charades –Act! Shout! Chuckle! Roar! We’ve included two separate game modes to play through – the always favorite Classic Charades and a fun group acting game called Switch
Heads up! Race the timer to guess the words you’re wearing on your headband, based on your teammate’s clues. HEAD’S UP 2nd Edition is a fun way to teach children different types of descriptions and incorporate memory-based play.
Battleship Shots and Connect 4 Shots– present a ball-tossing twist to the original Battleship and Connect 4 gameplay. It’s head-to-head competition, strategy, and excitement as players get on their feet and bounce or toss their balls in order to sink ships or secure spots! Bring the game board closer for kids that might need a little more help to participate.
Hockey Frenzy – Have your kids enjoy cooperative play and good healthy competition while increasing their eye hand coordination. This hockey table doesn’t require batteries or electricity and is FUN and easy to play.
Twangled Game – Help your child increase their internal body awareness, problem solving, communication and cooperation skills while having fun and laughing trying to find their way out of a tangled mess.
We wish you all happy holidays and a happy and healthy New Year,
Cami, Kristine, Michael, Natalie and Nadereh