When I think about Christmas coming up and what gifts I will pick out for each of my children, I always think about where they are at developmentally, and where they are needing some extra practice and skill building. I’m a very practical person, so I like to buy toys that they enjoy but also that secretly are building needed educational, motor or sensory skills.
The timeline for development looks different from one child to the next, but its important to provide continuous stimulation for their mind and senses in order to facilitate their development. Understanding the different stages of development (what skills your child is working on mastering) is important to help determine what age-appropriate toy is for your child.
Growth, development and learning starts for every child with their sensory and motor skills.
Sensory skills involve your senses (hearing, vision, smell, taste, touch, --vestibular (inner ear -senses movement), proprioception (ability to know where one’s body is in space), balance and spatial perception.
Motor skills refers to when your muscles, nervous system and brain work together to complete a task like throwing a ball or buttoning a shirt. There are two types of motor skills: gross and fine. Gross motor skills include bigger movements like rolling over, sitting and walking (basically anything that involves your feet, legs, torso and arms). Fine motor skills include small tasks like bending your fingers, holding a pencil, moving your lips etc. Information or new learning occurs best under conditions that offer both an engagement of motor and the senses.
Going back to my practical nature, I especially love toys that span multiple developmental stages. Toys that they are eager to play with for more than a year or two but continue to inspire creativity, work on fine motor development and mastering sensory integration. Its an extra bonus if its engaging and fun for us parents to join in as well of course!
Here is a list of my top 6 gifts or toys…
1. Skootle Box
Skootle Box is a box filled with activities that help a child develop many of the motor and sensory skills all wrapped into one. Designed by an Occupational Therapist, it come with a guide that is the key to using the toys and activities in the box. A new box comes every month if you join the subscription platform.
LEGO encourages so much creativity, and you can build increasing challenge with new elements (like pulleys and moveable gears). It also helps them strength skills in attention, focus, concentration and mental flexibility skills (being able to create different things from the same pieces). Lastly, LEGO provides excellent fine motor practice that can also help translate into better writing. For children under 3 or 4, duplo (larger LEGO) is a great option.
3. Drawing boards
Drawing boards like the Boogie Board or Magic Sketch Board are great technology alternatives that encourage creativity as well as fine motor/writing development. There are numerous variations of this age-old toy that are readily available. Another nice feature is the ability to erase the “screen” which saves on paper waste. All of my children have one of these. Its our go to activity for long car rides.
4. Peg style boards
Systems like the Lite Brite or Colorful Mushroom Nails Peg Board (picture below) are great ways to work on fine motor skill development that can translate into increased success in doing up buttons and zippers, improved pencil grip and writing skills etc.
Another classic toy that offers hours of endless fun and challenge is dominos. It can especially helpful with frustration mastery as sometimes you just have to start again. Fine motor development, eye hand coordination and sensory systems are all at work as children navigate setting up domino pieces. The sensory and motor challenge comes in as children have to learn the right amount of pressure and force to place and let go of domino pieces. Another added bonus is the math game part to dominoes that makes working on math skills fun.
6. Board Games
So many great board games to choose from out there. Family board game nights are my favorite thing and the best part is, it’s not just building fun within the family, the children are building so many skills they aren’t even aware of. Board games help with with planning/strategy, sequencing and organizing, math skills and reading. On the social side of it, we learn frustration tolerance (its hard to loose!) turn taking and teamwork. A few of our favorite board games are Scrabble, Monopoly, Life, Sequence, Sorry and Snakes and Ladders.
I’ve named mostly indoor quiet activities, but toys that help get kids outdoors and playing in the snow are great of course too. Outdoor play offers exercise and fun of course, but it also builds gross motor skills and often provides heavy sensory play (rolling around in the snow) which can have a very calming effect on children and prepares them to come inside for some quiet activities.