This is always one of my favorite gift guides to put together because I feel like we are always looking for small gifts for kids whether it be an add-on to a larger gift or to be used as a motivator or prize for a job well done. There are some gifts on here that make the list year after year (Thinking Putty, chopsticks, on-the-go craft kits) but most of these are new this year. There are so many clever gifts out there that can be used for therapeutic purposes without the kids even knowing. I tried to include gifts for various ages and many of these are appropriate for kids of all ages and are not age-specific.
1. Magnetic Connect 4-saw this and thought it was a fun game to play on a fridge or some other kind of magnetic surface. The goal of the game is the same as the original but you can work on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills while also working on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning, problem solving and organizational skills. For you city dwellers, the added bonus is that you don't have to figure out where to store another bulky game with lots of pieces.
2. Nee-Doh Dohjee-squishy balls are all the rage these days and these have been a huge hit with my friends at the gym. What I love about these are that they come with a mini nee-doh ball and an outside animal/creature covering that you can mix and match with other Dohjees you collect. Great for increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills, improves bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination in addition to having a small little fidget that will help calm down during stressful times.
3. Silicone Bracelets With Charms Set-fun set of plastic bracelets that kids can personalize with a variety of charms (you must buy both separately). I am actually planning on ordering a bunch of these for the kids to make as a holiday gift from me this year. Great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and also works on improving bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination. I like that you can easily swap the charms out of your bracelet so if the child's interests change or they want to coordinate with the outfit of the day, they can.
4. Tiny Ice Cream Kit-my sister bought my daughter the tiny baking kit and it was a huge hit with her and her friends. The kit comes with all the mini-sized tools you will need and an instruction book with 15 different tiny ice cream ideas. A great gift for an older kid (definitely suggest 8 or older like recommended on the packaging) who has decent frustration tolerance. This adorable set works on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills and is a fabulous way to encourage executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and organizational skills. In the end, they have some adorable and tasty creations to show off.
5. Busy Ideas for Bored Kids (Outside Edition)-after the last crazy 20 months, I am finding that so many kids don't really know what to do when they aren't on a device or being told exactly what to do. I am trying to encourage my own daughter to get outdoors as much as possible while the weather is still nice but oftentimes she will say she is bored or doesn't know what she should do. This deck of cards will help children choose fun activities to do outside with their peers. Hopefully they will use the cards as suggestions and add their own adventures to the suggested activities.
6. Whatchamadrawit Game-this fast-paced drawing game encourages creativity, imagination and thinking outside the box. All you need is a paper, writing instruments and your imagination. This can definitely be played during family game night and I think the more players, the better! Before each round a judge is chosen....a card is picked and everyone has 60-seconds to draw what is on the card and the judge will pick his/her favorite and the winner gets the card. The person with the most cards at the end is the winner. Such a fun way to work on improving drawing and graphomotor skills and working on kids, especially those more rigid ones, to think outside the box and have fun.
7. DIY Air Dry Clay Kit-I love using clay with my kids at work because it's such a great way to work on improving grasp strength and fine motor and manipulation skills but they often get upset when their creations get ruined. I have avoided using the oven bake clay since I don't have an oven to bake it at work and when I try and bring it home to cook, I end up ruining it. So I am loving this air dry clay from Ooly and how easy it is for kids to manipulate. Kids can make a creation (or practice making letters, numbers, shapes, etc.) and by the time they return the following week it's dry and ready to take home.
8. On-The-Go Play Again Sticker and Game Set-reusable stickers can be a hit or a major miss but these sets from Ooly are an all-time favorite. There are three different sets to choose from: Daring Dinos, Sunshine Garden and Workin' Wheels and each set features a simple board game, a match and learn game, tic tac toe and a scene board where kids can use the stickers to use their imagination and create their own picture. These are so awesome for developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination works on developing focus, attention, organizational and problem solving skills. The best part is that everything is easily stored within in the packaging so it's easy to take on the go to keep kids entertained while traveling.
9. Dimple Pops-I love when a toy fad ends up actually being therapeutic and fidget toys have made a really big comeback since Covid. I'm not gonna lie....when I was doing a majority of my sessions remotely, I found myself needing something to keep my hands busy so I started using a fidget to help me focus. When I first saw all these pop-toys, I was instantly obsessed. I love that they have expanded and have kids of all ages in mind. What young kids don't realize is that while they are playing with this new fad toy, they are working on developing fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, visual motor skills and so much more. These Dimple Pops are really great for the little hands who are working on finger isolation.
10. Loopy Looper-this is a fidget toy for older kids (or grown-ups) and the fun thing about this particular one is that there are four different options with different challenges.
Edge: Place your marble inside and find the perfect speed to keep it sticking to the rail.
Flow: Spin as slowly as you like to, taking time to feel the marble flow around the loop. Helps with focus, concentration and getting creative juices flowing.
Hoop: relax with a simple spin around the loop or launch into a quick-fire challenge by trying to land the ball inside the hoop!
Jump: this Loopy Looper requires skillful spinning to get the marble through the gap. Once the child figures out the method, they can keep going as fast as they can.
These are great for developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye coordination and encourages concentration, focus and a sense of calm.
11. Mega Construx Pokéman-it's funny how Pokéman are still a thing today after all these years. I'm loving these construction sets that work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, increased grasp strength, improves focus, attention, planning and organizational skills. There are 6 different characters to choose from or you can collect them all.
12. Crazy Aarons Thinking Putty-I love everything about this putty but most love that the founder hires adults with special needs and trains them to have meaningful jobs. There is a giant variety of colors, styles and even some that smell! Putty is a great way to work on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills and is also a great fidget for those moments when your child may have to return to remote learning. I like to hide small beads, coins or little animals in the putty to make it more motivating for tired little hands.
13. Light Saber Chopsticks-couldn't resist adding these when I stumbled upon them. One of my go-to activities I give parents to do at home to work on improving grasp and manipulation skills is to use child-friendly chopsticks while eating. I still have a lot of older kids who need to work on this skill but want nothing to do with the babyish chopsticks. How much are older kids going to love these light saber/Star Wars inspired chopsticks?!?
14. Speks Geode Magnetic Sets-I picked these up on a whim a few months ago not realizing they would be a huge hit and now I am not sure who loves them more...me or the kids! Think Magnatiles on a much smaller scale. Great for on the go fun while also working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills. There is no right or wrong way to play with them and you can collect all the sets to create larger projects.
15. Kids Made Modern Unicorn, Shark, Mermaid and Cosmic Necklace Kits-cute little on the go necklace making sets from an incredible company. I've been a huge fan of the quality of the materials that come in each of their kits. These necklace sets come complete with a charm, cord for stringing, 40 various beads and comes in a cute little tin storage case that can be used later as a trinket box or even use it to turn into a homemade ornament once your little crafter completes their necklace.
16. Scribble Scrubble Pets-another fun little toy that will encourage even the most resistant writers pick up a marker and start coloring. My kids have loved coloring, designing and playing with these but they truly love scrubbing them clean and doing it over and over again. These are great for introducing younger children to coloring but also works on encouraging bilateral and hand-eye coordination, imagination and creativity skills and early writing skills. You can also work on improving tactile sensitivity by having them use soap or shaving cream on the scrub brush when scrubbing them clean.
17. Mini Jenga Game-couldn't resist adding this to the list when I stumbled upon it. Jenga never fails to entertain kids and now you can take it on the go. Jenga is great for working on hand-eye coordination, focus, planning and organizational skills. If you want to add a fun little twist to the game, you can turn this into an ice-breaker game by writing questions on each block.
18. Secret Decoder Ring-cute and simple way to encourage kids to work on handwriting in a fun way. Leave your kids messages that they have to decode using this ring. Each letter has a number that it coordinates with. Want your kids to do a chore? Write the message out in numbers and have your kids solve the mystery. Not only is this a fun way to work on handwriting, by twisting the ring you are working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills.
19. Exploding Hand Soap-do you have kids who are resistant to hand washing? Try motivating them with these water bead like soap balls. They use the little spoon shaped like a hand to take one of the jar and then pop the bead that's filled with soap. Once the color disappears, they know they have washed long enough and can rinse. Love that we can add a little bit of sensory fun to a pretty boring but necessary task.
20. Peanut Crayons-a great first set of crayons for little hands. These peanut-shaped crayons are a perfect size for early drawers and super well made so there is no fear of them breaking during use. The unique shape of these crayons makes it easier for little hands to grasp for greater ease with coloring. Made from all natural and non-toxic beanwax so parents don't have to worry if they accidently end up in the mouth.
21. All of Us Crayons-inclusivity is a very important thing, especially in schools. This set of 8 crayons represents all colors of skin and encourages children to see the beauty of all colors and shades of skin. They are a perfect size to encourage a more proper grasp for little hands. Just a fun fact about these crayons: they made it onto Oprah's Favorite Things guide this year!
22. Uno Flip-this is one of my favorite new games this year and my older kids are loving it as well. I mean, who doesn't love Uno? This two-sided Uno game offers the traditional game of Uno with a special card that makes you flip the whole game over for a more competitive side of play with new challenges. Uno has always been a go-to game for me to work on developing executive functioning skills for my kids because it's a fun way to work on focus, attention, organization, planning and problem solving skills.
23. Water Beads-when I pull these out for my kids, they are so excited! Loving this linked set that comes with thousands of water beads in various sizes. Water bead play is a wonderful way to encourage sensory play and exploration with little mess for grownups to clean up. I always give my kids cups, spoons and other toys to use when playing to encourage bilateral coordination, hand-eye coordination and focus and attentional skills. Sometimes I like to hide little plastic animals in the water beads and have them go on a hunt to save them which is always a big hit.
24. Eraser Puzzles-these come highly recommended by my 11 year old daughter and her bestie. I love when a gift is not only practical but can also be used to reach developmental goals. Kids can work on problem solving, hand eye coordination, bilateral coordination and improves fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills. Each eraser has 5 pieces and you can mix and match. Be sure to check out your local toy stores to see what kinds of eraser puzzles they have....I have picked up the cutest animal and food eraser puzzles over the years for goody bags and prizes for my kids at work.
25. Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza Card Game-not sure if you have noticed but I happen to have a thing for card games, especially ones that will engage the whole family. My speech therapist colleague Jacki Barredo suggested this game to me and I have been sharing it since. This game sounds more complicated than it actually and can be enjoyed by the whole family. The deck is split evenly between 2-8 players. Each person takes a turn flipping a card face-up on a pile in the middle while saying the words "Taco", "Cat", "Goat", "Cheese", "Pizza" in that order. If the card in the middle happens to match the word being spoken, the players race to slap the deck...whoever is the last to slap the deck must take the whole pile and add to their set of cards. The person who gets rid of all of their cards first is the winner.
26. Mini Twister Game-this is truly a dream recommendation for an occupational therapist! Twister has always been a favorite of mine because it works on so many developmental goals and this mini version makes me so happy. Such a fun way to work on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, finger isolation skills, motor planning and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention and problem solving skills.
27. Animal ABC Stickable Foam Bath Shapes-I've always encouraged parents to make bath-time as meaningful as possible. Whether it be using shaving cream on the wall to practice drawing or writing letters, I believe that kids learn best at a young age through hands-on, sensory based play which is why bath time is a perfect time for early learning. Loving these extra adorable foam animal alphabet stickers that come with a mesh bag for easy storage. A perfect opportunity to not only learn letters, these are great for working on improving fine motor and grasping skills and to expand language skills and learning letter sounds.
28. Unplugged Play: Grade School Edition-I'm constantly hearing that my 11 year old daughter is bored and doesn't know what to do (even though she has enough to keep her entertained for days on end) if she isn't allowed to be on her phone. I do think that after almost 20 months of everyone relying on technology, kids really are struggling making choices about what to do during their downtime. Since most kids don't want to be told what to do, I am loving the idea of giving them a book like that that has tons of choices for them to make. There are a variety of activities such as indoors vs. outdoors, solo play vs. playing with a friend/sibling but the common factor is that they don't require any technology. Be sure to check out the preschool edition for your younger kids.
29. Boon Bath Time Pipes-going back to my love of making bath time as meaningful as possible, how cool are these suction cup pipes??? This 5 piece set can be used individually or can be connected to build a chain. Each shape has a unique feature which encourages sensory exploration, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, cause and effect and so much more. These don't only have to be used during bath time....you can add them to a sensory bin with a variety of materials such as rice, beans, water beads and so much more.
30. Twee Chalk-I love that there are some things that are ageless and timeless but also love that some of those things have become more advanced and exciting. I am totally obsessed with all of the gorgeous chalk creations from Twee (a Philadelphia based woman run company....woot woot). While my 11 year old daughter pretends to not care about these these things, she still get's excited when I buy a set of Twee chalk and insists I do not bring them to work. Living in Brooklyn and having a lot of sidewalk space so we have spent countless hours doing chalk drawing. Sidewalk chalk drawing is great for encouraging creativity and imagination skills and works on increasing upper extremity and hand strength. I encourage parents to have kids practice writing letters, numbers and shapes.
I have tried once again to link some of my favorite local toy stores whenever I could as I have always found it very important to support our local businesses but even more so now. Many of the items listed above are ones that I have seen in most toy stores I have visited all over the place. And since are all hearing about shipping nightmares and problems with supply chain, why not take out some of the stress and support your local stores where you don't have to worry about toys arriving on time. If you are shopping for family members who are not local, find out their local toy stores and see if you can shop from there. If you are in the NYC area, be sure to check out the following stores: Lulu's Cuts and Toys, Little Things Toy Store, Norman and Jules, Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store, West Side Kids, Stationary and Toy World, Mary Arnold Toys, Kidding Around Toys and Boomerang Toys.
If you are looking for specific ideas for your kids or kids on your shopping list, please do not hesitate reaching out to me for suggestions. I have so many more thoughts on great gifts for the important toddlers in your life. I am only an email away at email@example.com and love to hear from and help in any way I can.