OT Toy Guide

The holiday season always sneaks up on us, as we balance visiting with friends and family, preparing wonderful meals, participating in fun and heartfelt family traditions, and exchanging gifts with loves ones. As children make wish lists for Santa, and friends and family request gift ideas for your young ones, it can be hard to come up with the perfect gifts. When deciding on gifts for my own or other children, I like to consider a few details:

  • Quality over quantity: Rather than having mountains of toys, several of which will be neglected while new favorites are discovered, invest in a few toys that are of high quality, and will last. This also helps to reduce sensory overload, both on Christmas morning and in the days and weeks that follow as you attempt to organize a play area. 
  • Multiple ways to play: Toys are expensive, and children’s skills and interests are always changing. Find a toy that can be played with in multiple ways so that play can develop as your child grows and changes. 
  • Developmentally appropriate: Think about the age of your child, but also consider where they are developmentally. Does your child need more practice with fine motor skills? There are plenty of fun games and toys to develop specific skills. Is he a sensory seeker? Christmas is a great opportunity to give him the tools he needs to self-regulate!

There are some great blogs and resources out there that suggest toys and gifts for children at specific developmental stages and with a variety of special factors in mind. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Mama OT has numerous OT-related lists, like Stocking Stuffers to Help with Pencil Grasp and the Ultimate List of Gifts for Sensory Seekers.
  • Check out Sugar Aunts’ suggestions on Gifts to Promote Scissor Skills and Toys and Tools to Promote Visual Tracking.
  • This guest post gives OT-recommended toy suggestions broken down by age.

When it comes to where to shop, you don’t have to go to a special retailer to find toys for children with special needs (although some of the toys, games, and equipment available at sites like Fun and Function and Special Needs Toys are awesome!). The blogs listed above name numerous ‘mainstream’ toys that can cater to specific needs and skills. One of my absolutely favorite toy companies is Fat Brain Toys, with tons of unique and fun ideas!

For a little extra guidance, check out Toys“R”Us’s Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. Using this guide, you can search for toys that promote skills development in numerous categories, including auditory, creativity, fine motor, gross motor, language, self-esteem, social skills, tactile, thinking, and visual. The website also includes links for Tips for Toy Buying and Toy Safety Tips.

Another great resource is the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization that provides an array of services to improve the lives of children with special needs through the utilization of toys and play. They publish the AblePlay website, which offers research, ratings, and reviews of toys and products appropriate for children of all abilities, focusing on the developmental areas of physical, sensory, communicative, cognitive, and social/emotional abilities of a child. They also publish this guide for lots of toy ideas!

By Krista Flack, MS OTR/L, Pediatric Occupational Therapist

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