Physical Therapist Top Toys for the Holidays

Pediatric Physical Therapist Top Toys for the Holiday

By: Jeannine Moyer, teli Physical Therapist
When looking for toys to add to your holiday list, consider those items that help to promote your child’s development, particularly in the area of gross motor skills. Think of what skills your child currently has, and what he/she will be working toward in the coming months.  Four general skill categories for infants and toddlers, in order of development, are:

  1. tummy time
  2. sitting
  3. standing and walking
  4. higher level motor skills (jumping, climbing, riding, etc.).

Brand names are not that important, but sturdiness often is. Many items can be found at second-hand stores to bring the expense down. 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.
Tummy Time Toys
A colorful mat often keeps baby’s interest – many are under $30.00.  Some brand names to search under are: Bright Starts, Tiny Love, Boppy, and Skip Hop.  If the mat has dangling toys for the baby to use while lying on their back, make sure they can move out of the way to make tummy time easier.
tummy-time-mat_physical-therapyTiny Love Tummy Time Fun Activity Mat – Frog
A mirror at baby’s eye level can encourage them to hold their head up longer, push up on their hands, and stay on their belly longer.  Sassy and Bright Starts have nice versions.
crib-floor-mirror_physical-therapySassy Crib & Floor Mirror
Use other visually stimulating objects that will encourage your baby to turn his/her head side to side for neck strengthening.  There are many musical light up toys that catch baby’s eye easily.
mozart-cube_physical-therapyMunchkin Mozart Magic Cube

A seat helps support your baby while learning to sit unsupported. Some brand names include Bumbo, Summer Infant 3-Stage Superseat, Fisher Price Sit-Me-Up Floor Seat.  Having your child reach up for dangling toys on a playmat can help develop trunk muscles while sitting in one of these seats, or while sitting with your support.
3-stage-seat_physical-therapySummer Infant 3-Stage Superseat

Some development-promoting toys to play with while sitting include nesting/stacking cups, ring stacker, cloth or rubber blocks, pop beads, board books, and knob puzzles.  If your child is sitting independently, having him/her reach for toys and return to upright can develop trunk rotation and postural control.
farm-beads_physical-therapyEarly Years Farm Friends Pop-It Beads

Toys that move away from your child as they sit can encourage crawling movements.  Some examples include balls and plush toys that “crawl”.  Fisher Price has a Disney Minnie Mouse version, VTech has an Explore and Crawl Cub, and Bright Starts has a Roll & Glow Monkey.
glow-monkey_physical-therapyBright Starts Roll & Glow Monkey

Sturdy toys that your child can pull to stand and hold on to while playing will help develop leg strength.  There are a variety of activity tables available.  Most are educationally based with music and learning activities.  Workbench, play kitchens, and water-tables can also promote standing, and possibly some cruising.  These items are difficult to find for under $30, so here’s where resale shops are helpful.  Some brand names to search for are LeapFrog, Fisher Price, Bright Starts, VTech, Playskool, Step 2, and Baby Einstein.
learning-table_physical-therapyFisher Price Laugh N Learn Puppy and Pals Learning Table

Push toys can help little ones learn to walk, but sturdiness is very important for this particular item.  Look at the design to try to determine if it will easily tip when your child puts weight through the handle (most lawnmower and baby stroller type push toys tip over too easily and are designed for children that can walk independently).  There are many brands available, including Kolcraft, Melissa & Doug, Hape, Fisher Price, VTech, Bright Starts, Playskool, Little Tikes, Peradix, and Constructive Playthings.
learning-walker_physical-therapyVTech Sit-to-Stand Learning Walker

Toys that promote repeated movements between standing and squatting are also great for this stage of development.  These toys typically have a mechanism where you put a ball or car in the top and it rolls down to the bottom. Fisher Price and Bright Starts are a few names to consider.
spin-monkey_physical-therapyBright Starts Having A Ball Hide n’ Spin Monkey

Higher Level Motor Skills
Ride on toys with or without pedals are good for developing coordination. Rocking toys give vestibular input.
riding-toy_physical-therapyLittle Tikes Go & Grow Lil Rollin Giraffe Riding Toy

Climbing structures such as small plastic slides can help children develop body awareness and motor planning skills.
slide_physical-therapyStep2 Play And Fold Jr. Slide
Trampolines or inflatable bouncing apparatus’ can help develop jumping skills, but safety is of utmost importance.  Many trampolines designed for use by children have an attached handle for them to hold on to.  Others have an enclosure such as netting surrounding it.
trampoline_physical-therapyLittle Tikes 3’ Trampoline