A Pediatric Therapist's Christmas List
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Time to decorate your home with beautiful lights and trees, listen to cheerful holiday music, start baking lots of yummy goodies, and frantically run all over town buying Christmas gifts for all of your family and friends.
Wait a minute. That last one doesn’t sound too wonderful. The stress of selecting the perfect gift for all of your loved ones can be so difficult! What fantastic gift are you going to give your own children? Your beloved nieces and nephews? Your uber picky Great Aunt Sally?
Well, we can’t help you with your Great Aunt Sally, but we do have some ideas for all of the children in your life. Here are three questions you should ask yourself when picking out gifts for those special little ones:
1. How long can the child use this item?
As you all know, there are millions of toys on the market designed to entertain your child. But, for how long? Our home has toys upon toys that were played with for 5 minutes and tossed aside. What if the toys had multiple purposes? What if it was a toy they could use when they were 6 months old, 18 months old, and 3 years old? Finding a multipurpose toy might sound like a chore, but there are so many great options. Toys that are meant to be used at several ages and stages of childhood will be kept around and cherished for a long time.
2. Will it make the child think, move, or interact with someone?
This generation loves to be entertained. Some 2 year olds are better at navigating YouTube and Netflix than their parents or grandparents. Did you know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends NO SCREEN TIME before the age of 2? That means no television, no phones, and no tablets. Can you imagine a life with no screen time? There might be more reading, imaginative play, and social interaction with siblings or peers. Sounds pretty wonderful to us!
3. Will the child make memories with it?
The gift of experience can be the one that is most treasured. Take time to explore the local attractions for children: museums, libraries, zoos, mommy-and-me classes, etc. Most businesses offer gift certificates for all of these wonderful experiences for children. If you can’t be the one to take the child, a gift certificate for the parent and child would be greatly appreciated.
Overcoming Winter and Its Obstacles
Winter is a tricky time of the year for children to get the amount of sensory input needed to regulate and calm their bodies. Keep in mind our bodies senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch AND (often forgotten) vestibular and proprioception. Think of items that you can keep in your home that can allow your child to get a variety of sensory experiences versus spending too much time on the electronics! This can help regulate arousal level, attention, cognitive functioning as well as emotional regulation.
Where do you begin now? Every year, parents ask our team for advice on the best gifts for young children. Our team of pediatric therapists teamed up to provide some gift ideas to help guide your Christmas shopping this year that are sure to keep your child engaged, amused and interactive. You won’t see any technology on this list. These are our “back to basics” picks and truly help to develop thinking, learning, language and motor skills.
The Importance of Proprioception
But before we get into the list, let’s discuss proprioception. What is it? Proprioception is the sensations from our joints and muscles that underlies body awareness. When we give our body this type of sensory input, it can help improve body awareness and is very organizing and calming for the body.
Examples of proprioceptive input include: crashing into a crash pad or pillows, jumping, climbing, crawling, pushing, pulling, lifting objects, or any sort of weight-bearing activity. Another important sensory input is our vestibular system. This is located in our inner ears and is responsible for spatial awareness. It also allows us to coordinate balance with movement. It works in conjunction with our other senses to ensure that we feel safe within our environment.
So now that we’ve defined “proprioceptive,” here are gift ideas that are occupational therapist, speech language pathologist, and physical therapist approved!
The Christmas Wish List
TUNNELS: Whether it is a pop up tunnel or made from lycra, this provides proprioceptive input and is great for crawling.
TOYS THAT PEDAL: A tricycle to pedal is a great gift and will help with gross motor coordination. NO power wheels or batteries necessary! Just pedal away! Babies can use a push toy that converts to a ride on toy for toddler years. Toddlers can use tricicyles, and 4-6 year olds can use balance bikes to practice before getting a traditional bike.
PLAY BALL: Throwing, catching, kicking and gross motor play is so important for coordination and development. It also promotes skill development that may lead children to a favorite sport. The Zoom Ball is another great way to practice hand-eye coordination.
MINI TRAMPOLINE: Great for jumping and getting the wiggles out during cold winter months.
EXERCISE BALL or HOP BALL: The child can sit and bounce, rock back and forth while laying on their stomach, or lay on floor while you squish them with the ball. Another option for a child 3-5 is a Rody Horse (great for sitting and bouncing).
CRASH PAD: This is a great sensory activity to give a child proprioceptive input. Why not create your own? A very simple DIY solution is to take a zip up duvet cover and stuff it with pillows, bean bags, blankets, and large stuffed animals.
MINI SLIDE: This is great for climbing and vestibular input while sliding down.
SIT AND SPIN: Great for spinning for vestibular input. They also get proprioceptive input while using their upper body to spin themselves.
SCOOTER BOARDS: These are so versatile and can allow for so many types of vestibular input—spinning, moving forward, backwards, sideways, etc.!
MOON SHOES: (for children ages 7 and older) These are like mini trampolines for the feet! This provides great proprioceptive and vestibular input while working on balance and coordination.
TWISTER: Great for proprioception while also working on balance and coordination.
BEAN BAG TOSS GAMES: Great for hand-eye coordination and turn taking skills.
PUZZLES: Inset puzzles or floor puzzles are a great tool for teaching vocabulary and interactive learning. They also help children become better problem solvers and develop fine motor skills and visual/spatial skills. Peg puzzles or peg boards also promote hand-eye coordination.
BOOKS: Buy books! Real books that have pages and don’t swipe on screens are best! The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding all screen time with toddlers. When possible, let them turn the pages, point to pictures and read together. Time spent reading is a precious time for bonding, as well as a critical time for language, vocabulary and cognitive development. Choose age appropriate picture books and librarians are great for helping to choose age-appropriate stories.
LACE UP CARDS: These can often be found in teacher stores or at the toy store or book store. They are great for car trips, quiet time or in a waiting room to keep little hands busy.
BUBBLES: They are inexpensive and can be so intriguing for children. They can help with oral motor development and are also a good way to teach first words like: “more,” “pop,” and “all gone!”
PHOTO ALBUM: Put favorite family pictures in the album and tell stories or create your own scrap book of memories. Children love to see themselves and favorite people in photos.
SHAPE SORTER: This toy can be used for sorting shapes and colors, stacking like blocks, placing into the appropriate holes, and can be used for several years!
TODDLER SIZED TABLE AND CHAIRS: This is the perfect work space for the child to use all of these new toys!
GAMES: Here are several examples of games that promote fine motor skill development: Lite Brite, Jenga, Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Kit, Pop the Pig, Pop the Pirate, or games with tongs like:
Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game, Scatterpillar, Avalanche Fruit Stand, and Learning Resources Games (Color Bug Catchers, Super Sorting Pie, Mini Muffin Match Up).
FIDGET TOYS: Great for calming and improving attention and they also make great stocking stuffers! Examples: stress balls, marble fidgets, pencil toppers
BLOCKS: Building with blocks offers so many opportunities! Fine motor development and problem solving improves with block play. Patterning and imitation, as well as language and concepts, can be modeled in block play. Target comparative words like: “taller,” “shorter,” or “tallest” in block play. Also target concept and positional words like: “over,” “beside,” “in front,” “behind” and “next to.”
LEGOS or DUPLO BLOCKS: (for younger children) Like blocks, Legos offer great imaginative play that can last for many years! Children become creative designers with the use of Legos.
BABY DOLLS: A baby doll (for both girls and boys) offers opportunities for imaginative play, role playing and imitation. A bottle, blanket, and a few baby accessories like a diaper, or clothing enhance this play.
DRESS UP CLOTHES: Dressing up is a great way to teach boys and girls role-playing and self-help (buttons, zippers and fasteners). It is a way to teach imagination and offers opportunities to communicate and engage in dialogues.
CARS and VEHICLES: Kids love vehicles! Both boys and girls love to race cars down tracks, set up scenes with trains and build tracks, and engage in pretend play. Sort the vehicles by color and type. Use dialogues and talk about routines like getting gas, fixing a car, and taking road trips.
PLAY-DOH: One of the greatest inventions ever! Play-Doh is good for fine motor development, imagination, and play. Adults can model great language during play with play dough. Kneading, molding, stretching, and creating with Play-Doh can be extremely relaxing and calming.
MUSIC: Purchase or make inexpensive instruments and sing and dance with your child daily! You can decorate plastic bottles and put beans or rice in them or make homemade bean bags and move, shake, and sing to music. Music is the one stimuli that promotes learning and connects all brain centers. It is a powerful tool.
TOY FOOD/DISHES: Pretend play is so important. Pretending to cook with mom and dad in the kitchen or having a toy kitchen for pretend play expands this experience! This is also a good way to model healthy choices for nutrition.
PLAY FARM or LITTLE PEOPLE HOUSE: Setting up animals or people and role-playing is very important for children. Allow them opportunities to explore and assist them by modeling new vocabulary daily.
PUPPETS: Either homemade from a sock or from the toy store or teacher store. Puppets allow children to be creative and expressive.
FLASHLIGHT: Kids of many ages love to play with flashlights. They like to play I SPY, investigate, and explore! A flash light is a great toy to put in a “detective kit” along with a magnifying lens, notebook, and pen.
Let's Get Messy!
CRAFT SUPPLIES: Go ahead! Get messy with the kids! A great gift that would keep on giving would be a storage box filled with crayons, markers (the short pip squeak are best for fine motor development in little hands), chalk, scissors, non-toxic school glue, glue sticks, pipe cleaners, paper, coloring books, stickers, and stamps with ink. Write letters, numbers, make cards for all occasions and model early literacy and writing with your child from a young age. An Easel board provides a nice surface for little hands to be creative, and supports handwriting development. Beads or necklace-making kits are another great way for kids to refine their fine motor skills.
SENSORY BINS: A sensory bin is simple to create. Put dried beans or rice in a shoe box size container (or larger) with a lid. Inside, place favorite items like: plastic animals, puzzle pieces, funnels, spoons or measuring cups. The possibilities to teach concepts and language are endless. These sensory opportunities also allow for quiet, calming experiences for young children.
KINETIC SAND: Great for tactile play, and easier to clean up than regular sand.
FINGER PAINT KITS: Great for tactile play whether you are painting pictures or working on letters/numbers.
BATH FOAM: Fun for bath time while working on writing letters or shapes for visual motor skills and also working on tactile play.
SEQUIN PILLOWS: Great for visual input and tactile input. This can be a great calm down tool!
BEAN BAG CHAIRS: Great for sitting as many children love how the bean bag molds to their body for improved calming.
WEIGHTED BLANKET: These are a great tool for calming. Many children use these as a calm down tool and to help with sleep. These should weigh about 10% of the child’s body weight.
EXPERIENCES: Gift cards to the local or family museums could be a great idea for young families. Check out the options for local art classes for children, toddler music classes, or parent-toddler tumbling classes.
Cherish the early learning years! It is a wonderful time for children to learn, explore, create and grow!
Get Your Pediatric Therapy Questions Answered
For questions or concerns, call the Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center at 563-421-3497.