Back to Basics for the Holidays

Written by Jessica Addeo and Dana Blumberg

The holidays are often accompanied by gift giving and parents want to give their children gifts that will not only put a smile on their faces but will benefit them as well. As pediatric OT’s we are constantly assessing new toys for their developmental impact (and fun factor). As much as the new toys on the market bring something exciting and different to the table, there is something to be said for the oldies but goodies. Here are our top 10 tried and true “OT gifts” as well as our top 5 new favorite toys.

  1. Body Sock: The body sock is a great tool to provide proprioceptive input as well as a quiet space when your child needs a time out. For input have your child climb into the body sock; they can walk, roll or crawl around. For an extra added layer of fun throw some bean bags or sensory balls inside the body sock. Sometimes kids (and adults) can become overwhelmed by the bright, loud sounds and spaces of the holidays. In these moments, a body sock can provide a reprieve and a space to take a much-needed time out before re-engaging with the world
  2. Musical Hop Skipper (Super Skipper): This game provides an opportunity for sensory input via all the jumping, as well as some endurance building for the lower extremities. It can be set on 3 different speeds providing the opportunity to work on timing one’s movements. Since the super skipper can be so tiring, it is a great opportunity to work on self-regulation skills as well. When your child is starting to get tired or frustrated, point this out (in a nonjudgmental way) and encourage them to take a break, catch their breath and then re-join the game.
  3. Scooter board: This is an all-time OT classic. From sitting and scooting to laying on one’s belly the strengthening and input opportunities are endless. A favorite way to use the scooter board is to put puzzle pieces at one end of a room (about 10 feet away) and the board at the other end. Have your child lay on his or her belly and use their arms to propel back and forth to put the puzzle together. For more information about how to use the scooter board and why it is so beneficial check out this post (insert link to Sensory Equip 101)
  4. Twister: A funny and classic game! Twister is great to work on motor planning, knowing one’s left and right, turn taking and handling frustration.
  5. Pop The Pig: This is a fine motor game that incorporates hand strengthening (pushing the pigs head down and rolling the die) as well as counting, color recognition and turn taking. To ensure your child is getting the most hand strengthening out of the game focus on how they roll the die. Place the die in the palm of your child’s hand and have them wrap their fingers around it to hold the die inside. Give a few gentle shakes and then drop the die by opening their hand. Often children will use two hands or throw the die versus dropping. This is a great opportunity to work on self-regulation skills and grading pressure. You can also place the hamburger pieces on one end of the room and add in the scooter board or tunnel for some extra strengthening!
  6. Tunnel: The tunnel, like the scooter board, is an OT classic for strengthening. You can use the tunnel in the same way as the scooter board above (using a puzzle). It is a great alternative to the scooter board for younger clients or clients who fatigue quickly. The tunnel has the added benefit of working on the two sides of your child’s body and brain coordinating their movements via crawling. (Again, check out this post for more information about the benefits of the tunnel and crawling- insert sensory equipment 101).
  7. Zoom Ball: This is a great game to practice all the skills needed for successful throwing/catching but in a different way. The traditional manner of zoom ball is to have a child open and close their arms in a horizontal plane. Your child needs to learn to wait for the ball to come fully to the handles and to open their arms wide versus pulling back. Things to look for here are your child flaring their ribs forward or elevating their shoulders. These are indicators that your child is working hard to grade their movements and generate enough strength to successfully play. (If you see this check in with his or her OT for suggestion!). Once the horizontal plane is mastered (or your child gets bored) you can have them place one hand on top of the other and open the handles like an alligator mouth. Make sure to do both sides!
  8. Alligator Tongs /Zoo Sticks: In addition to tongs clothespins are another great tool. The opening and closing motion of tongs and clothespins helps to strengthen intrinsic hand muscles which are the muscles we use to hold scissors, pencils, utensils, manipulate fasteners…basically use our hands effectively. To start your child may grab tongs with their entire hand, as they become more refined and practice you can encourage them to hold the tongs with just their fingertips. The next step is to hold the tongs with just their first 3 fingers (thumb, index and middle finger). Sometimes this is facilitated by holding a pom-pom or small eraser with the ring and pinky finger while the other fingers hold the tongs. You can have your child sort and play with pom-poms, mini erasers, cotton balls, really anything that can be picked up with tongs!
  9. Rush Hour(Ages 8+) Rush Hour Jr. (Ages 5+): This is a great visual perceptual game that comes in a junior and then older edition. The purpose of the game is to figure out how to get a specific car out of “traffic” by moving the other pieces on the board in their specified tracks. The board is set up from a game card (they come in varying difficulties). You can have your child set up the card to add an extra visual perceptual element. You can also have your child lay on his or her belly or over a ball to add a strengthening and sensory input component to the game.
  10. Therapy Ball(Ask your therapist for a specific size for your child): This is an old standby for OTs that can be used to work on so many different skills. In its simplest form have your child seat on the ball (with support) and bounce up/down or side/side. Talk to your child’s therapist about what type of movement best supports your child’s needs (is it slow, rhythmical bouncing or more fast, erratic movements). Your child can lie backwards on his or her belly or back for some more intense vestibular input via rocking. While your child is laying back he or she can reach for a bean bag or toy and do a sit up to bring it up to you (make sure they don’t use their elbows). You can have your child lie on his or her belly and complete a puzzle or game over the ball for some vestibular input and strengthening. Again, please check out our post here for more info on the ball.

Favorite New Toys

  1. Color (Colour) Code: This is a fun visual perceptual problem solving game that also enhances spatial awareness. If your child loves the game Rush Hour, they will surely enjoy Color Code
  2. Crayola Color Wonder Magic Light Brush: A fun and imaginative mess free way to color and draw, working on fine motor skills and motor control
  3. Squishies: Pick from a variety of a small to large animals or food for your child to enjoy squishing and providing input
  4. Moodsters Feelings Flashlight: With this fun and interactive book and flashlight, your child can start to learn about their own feelings and emotions as well as other’s reactions
  5. Magformers Hi-Tech Walking Robot: This enjoyable robot helps children work on their fine motor skills, problem solving and imaginative play.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of potential OT gifts. But it is the list we run through in our head when a friend or family member asks what they should give to their child. As always speak with your child’s OT to get specific insight into how the above can be used for your child and any other classic games they think would be beneficial. Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!

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