OT in the Community: Holiday Gifts to Promote Play
by Lauren Pittard
As an occupational therapist, my role is to promote participation in functional and meaningful activities. Think of “occupation” as anything somebody does to occupy his or her time. Children often spend their time playing, which makes play a very important childhood occupation. There are tons of benefits to play! Play exploration and participation can provide enjoyment, enhance cognitive skills, strengthen motor skills, and allow children to practice social interactions.
When picking out holiday gifts, it is important to consider your child’s developmental age, not just their chronological age. If you pick out a toy that’s too easy, she won’t be very motivated to play with it. Alternatively, if the toy is too hard, she’ll be too frustrated to have any interest in it. Thankfully, there are many fun items out there that can address multiple developmental skills — like motor, visual-perceptual, social, etc. — simultaneously.
While holiday shopping, I challenge you to ask yourself two primary questions: Will my child be motivated by this toy? And what are three different ways my child can play with this toy to promote development? Here are just a few examples to consider:
- Caring for belongings
Here’s a gift guide organized by skills you want to emphasize with your child. But don’t forget — whichever items you choose, help create memorable moments by engaging in play with your child.
MOTOR SKILLS (fine, gross, and visual-motor skills)
- V-Tech Sit-to-Stand learning walker
- Gymnic Rody Horse
- Balance Bike
- Melissa & Doug Poke-a-Dot books
- Bowling game
- Hover soccer ball
- Stomp rocket launcher
- Roller skates (don’t forget the protective gear!)
- Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Piggy Bank
- Lite Brite
- Spot it! & Spot It! Jr.
- Crayola Color Wonder Mess-Free coloring books
- I Spy books
PROCESSING SKILLS (creativity, motor planning, problem-solving, etc.)
- Mental Blox
- Mad Libs
- Playskool Busy Gears
- Hoppers logic game
- Rush Hour logic game
- Connect 4
- Dress-up clothes
- Pretend kitchen, toolkit, etc.
- Magnetic tiles
- Building sets
- Story Cubes
- Sequence for Kids
- Shape Sorters
- I Can Do That! game (Cat in the Hat and/or Marvel editions)
SOCIAL INTERACTIONS (following directions, sharing, emotional regulation, etc.)
- Hedbanz (various editions)
- Mermaid Island board game
- Apples to Apples (various editions)
- Charades (various editions)
- Fidget toys (spinners, blocks, etc.)
- Compression sheets
- Red Light Green Light with Motion Sensor
- Duplo Emotion Legos
- Wooden mood puzzle
- Meditation cards
- Positive Quotes coloring book
It is important to remember that every child is different, so these gift ideas may not be appropriate for your child’s individual needs and abilities. If you have concerns related to your child’s development, consult with your pediatrician to determine if an occupational therapy evaluation would be beneficial to help incorporate strategies into your routine so your family can live life to the fullest.