Occupational Therapist's Holiday Toy List

Pediatric Occupational Therapist’s Suggestions for Your Holiday Toy List

By: Alex Beschorner, Occupational Therapist
Picking out holiday gifts for the little ones in your life is a fantastic opportunity to choose toys that will be fun to play with and will support development of important skills! Whether you have (or know) a child who is working on his or her fine motor skills, sensory processing and awareness, oral motor strength and coordination, or visual-motor integration (also known as hand-eye coordination), check out the following list for exciting ideas for many levels of development (and they are all under $30!). The following are not recommendations or an endorsement of particular brands, but rather provided as suggestions for the skill they reinforce. Also note that these toys can be found at a variety of retail locations or online.
Fine Motor Skills Development
skwish_occupational-therapyMany kiddos may be working on developing grasp, dexterity, and hand strength. The “Skwish” is easy to grasp for little hands and manipulating the beads can help encourage the use of those little fingers. The “Tobbles” stackable balls are excellent for refining your child’s grasp and release skills, while they try to create a wobbly tower. Peg boards are perfect for strengthening hands and fingers while helping to increase dexterity by encouraging use of a pincer tobbles_occupational-therapygrasp. It should be noted that peg boards are more appropriate for children who are working on higher level fine motor development and who are no longer mouthing toys.

Sensory Processing Skill Development
Touch is one of the most important senses that children use to explore the world around them. Choosing toys and activities that encourage exploration and give your child opportunities to engage with new tactile sensations can help develop sensory processing skills and increase sensory regulation in the face of new experiences.

  • caaocho-ball_occupational-therapyThe “CaaOcho” ball is easy to hold and allows for exploration of a variety of textures, no matter where those little hands grip on.
  • stay-blocks_occupational-therapyThe “Press Stay Blocks” allow for a novel tactile experience, while also aiding your child in grading pressure while he or she pushes them together and pulls them apart.
  • play-doh_occupational-therapyPlay Doh is a classic toy and fun activity which promotes tactile engagement in a variety of ways (squeezing, pulling, pushing, rolling, pinching, poking, etc.), while also encouraging your child’s creativity. Play Doh is also a good middle ground between dry textures and wet textures, for those kiddos who are working to increase their tolerance for messiness.
  • marvel-beads_occupational-therapyLastly, “Marvel Beads” (also called Water Beads) are a more intense sensory experience for those children who enjoy wet, slippery, and slimy textures (these should also be used under close supervision due to the small size of the beads).

Oral Motor Skills Development
teether_occupational-therapyWhether a child is in need of some extra oral input, is working on strengthening his or her oral-motor muscles, or is developing oral-sensory awareness, oral-motor play is a great way to develop all of these areas! The Sensory Teether is easy to grasp and provides a number of hard rubber chewing surfaces, no matter how you hold it. The “Massaging Action Teether” provides gentle vibration when your child bites down on the textured star, which can be both soothing and stimulating. A grab bag of silly whistles is an excellent choice for a kiddo who is working on developing oral-motor strength and coordination.

Visual-Motor Integration
There are many fun ways to motivate children to engage in activities that promote development of hand-eye coordination, which is essential in dressing, feeding, exploration of his or her environment, and playing with others.

  • ring-stackers_occupational-therapyRing Stackers and Shape Sorters are fun and simple ways to engage the eyes and hands together (if your child is not ready to use the shaped holes, the lid can be taken off for placing objects in and taking objects out).
  • piggy-bank_occupational-therapyThe “Laugh and Learn Piggybank” gives your child the opportunity to grasp the coins and orient them to correctly fit into the coin slot. Once the coin is inserted into the bank, there is the added bonus of a fun noise or music!
  • puzzle_occupational-therapyAn old favorite, puzzles are always a great option. When completing puzzles, children must visually match the piece to the space in the puzzle, and then use their hands to manipulate the piece into the correct orientation. When little hands are stringing large beads, the child’s eyes must also be used to place the string through the start of the hole and then pull it through the other side (these should be used under close supervision with children who are no longer mouthing objects).