It’s almost that time of year again! Time to brave the crowded malls and search for the perfect gift for the children we love. One of the biggest questions we get as pediatric therapists, is what can we get them that will help their motor skills. For those of you still searching, here is a list of ideas of toys and games that are not only great gift ideas, but can also help your kids develop their fine and gross motor skills while playing.
1) Baby Einstein Play Gym: For your newborns. A play gym is a great way to encourage play and exploration while laying on their back or their tummy. While lying on their back, different items can encourage children to kick and reach overhead or across their body to eventually encourage motor skills like rolling. The play gym can also encourage tummy time, which will help build neck and trunk extensor strength, scapular stability in their shoulders, endurance to further progress their motor skills towards getting onto hands and knees and crawling.
2) Play tent with a tunnel: Tents with tunnels can encourage crawling and bilateral coordination. Crawling through the tunnel into the tent will allow your child to practice weight shifting and using a reciprocal crawling pattern, build their core strength, develop the arches in their hands, and play in quadruped and tailor sitting in the tent.
3) Push Toy: A push toy is a great gift for a kiddo who already pulling to stand and cruising and starting to explore learning how to walk. You can try the shopping cart and wagon type push toys if your child likes to transport their toys with them or once that converts to a sit and ride toy if they just can’t wait to get on that bike.
4) Learning Table: A learning table is a great toy for way to encourage your child to get upright. You can practice playing in a tall kneel, a ½ kneel, or pulling to stand through a ½ kneel and standing. The lights, songs, numbers and letters on the tabletop provide motivation for your child rise to a new level and begin working on upright motor skills. You can place it against a wall or in a corner if your child needs a little more stability or in the middle of the room if they are learning to stand with a little less stability.
5) Hippity Hops: A ball with handles is a great way to help your child build coordination, balance, and strength. You child will have to use their core and leg strength in order to bounce and maintain their balance while hopping on the ball. A hippity hop can also provide great vestibular and proprioceptive input with the bouncing for the kiddos who are seeking out more sensory input.
6) Sturdy Birdy by Fat Brain Toy Co: This game is a fun and exciting game to work on kid’s balance, coordination and core strength. If your child is having trouble with single leg balance tasks such as skipping and hop scotch, this game provides them with the opportunity to work on this task. By balancing on one leg, not only are they practicing the motor task, but they are building strength in their hips and core musculature that will allow them to continue to progress in their gross motor development.
7) Step 2 Folding Slide: This slide is a perfect toy that can be used in doors or out doors. It allows your child to build leg strength and core strength and develop the skills necessary to walk up stairs. Climbing up the ladder provides kids with practice of the same motor pattern and strengthening of specific leg muscles that are used to walk up stairs, with extra support from the rails. Sliding down the slide can also help build core and trunk musculature to maintain or improve postural control and balance.
8) Super Skipper: The super skipper is a great way to help your child practice timing and grading of jumping skills. By jumping to different songs at different speeds, kiddo’s can develop their jumping skills to progress to more advanced gross motor skills, such as hop scotch and jump roping.
9) Giant Piano Mat: This is a fun way to practice more jumping skills and balance activities. Your child can work on single leg balance, single leg hopping, walking on tiptoes and jumping while building their creative and musical skills. This is also a great way to work on coordination skills. With prerecorded songs, your child can practice specific steps to a song.
10) Sensory stepping stones: Each stepping stone has a different texture that will provide new tactile input to your child’s feet or hands by crawling, walking, jumping or hopping onto each stone. Not only can kid’s work on their balance and gross motor activities, but they can also get sensory input.
11) Scooter board or skateboard: This is a great way for kiddos to work on upper extremity, core and trunk strength. Your child can lie on their belly on the board as they use their arms to pull themselves along the floor. Not only are they using their arm muscles but also engaging their core and trunk extensors to keep their head and body up on the board.
12) Side walk chalk: Sidewalk chalk is a great tool to work on all sorts of gross motor activities. You can draw a hopscotch grid to work on single leg hopping, coordination and balance. If the kiddo is not comfortable with single leg hopping yet, try practicing the hopscotch with two feet. Have them practice jumping with their feet apart and then feet together to work on coordinating movements, then once they have mastered that pattern, slowly practice switching from two legs to one and then one legs to two. You can draw different items on the ground and practice jumping on them or create a start and finish line of a race to work on running. The visual cue of different colors or drawings on the sidewalk can help kiddos focus better on the task that they are attempting.
13) Nubby ball: This is a great way to work on ball skills, such as throwing, catching and kicking. The texture can also provide sensory input to those kiddos who are seeking more tactile input as well. The increased tactile input could also help their awareness when attempting catching and gripping. For more advanced kids practicing ball skills can be great for single leg balance and coordinating movements of arms and legs. As kids get older, they can begin to build interests in certain sports.
14) Kinetic Sand: It feels like sand, but is not nearly as messy to clean up. Kinetic Sand helps improve tactile awareness, and fine motor skills. Kids can squeeze it and shape it to build different items and let their creativity bloom. The feeling of the sand can provide children with new tactile input that can decrease stress and allow for improved exploration to different tactile surfaces. The squishy material can also help improve fine motor skills, allowing kids to build their hand musculature and gripping techniques by forming different size structures.
15) Constructive Eating plate and Utensil Set: For those picky eaters. The 3-piece utensil set includes a bulldozer pusher, front loader spoon and forklift fork with textured handles that are easy to grip. The plate has ramps and parking spaces for food and utensils. This is a great gift to help engage children with their eating, as well as work on their fine motor skills of gripping and grasping and using their utensils to access food.