by Ginny Rieger
Childhood is a time for growth and development of all kinds of skills that help us function well as adults. OTs look at all types of skills when working with kids. Motor planning and coordination, balance and gross motor skills help us navigate our environments, move our bodies in meaningful, helpful and fun ways, and help us prevent injury. Fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, strength, bilateral coordination, and dexterity allow us to use our hands and arms as tools, and help us take care of ourselves, take care of others, and manipulate our environment. Problem solving, cognitive, and executive functioning skills are important skills to help us meet the demands of our everyday lives. Movement tolerance, emotional regulation, sensory regulation, imaginative play, and play development are also hugely important skills that affect how well a person can function in their environment.
As an OT, I am often asked for toy recommendations for kids who might be struggling with skill development in a variety of areas. Here are some of my favorite toys to use in therapy, along with some of the skills that playing with those toys can help improve!
TOYS FOR FINE MOTOR SKILLS
Fine motor skills are so important for children! If fine motor skills are slow to develop or absent, this can affect the child’s ability to dress themselves, participate in school, and participate in all kinds of play activities.
Perler beads are such an easy and affordable toy! These little gems can be used to develop and refine pincer grasp, in-hand manipulation, and dexterity, all of which are super important for school and play activities! Playing with Perler beads also helps develop wrist stability and hand-eye coordination. String them or place them on the pattern boards and melt them with an iron, the possibilities are endless!
Jenga is a classic toy that has so many awesome benefits! Pulling out those little blocks and placing them helps kids work on precision and dexterity of their hands, motor planning and motor control (it’s hard to be steady!) and also helps hand-eye coordination. Jenga can also be scaled up and down for a different challenge—smaller, and it increases the precision component, and larger for more gross motor and bilateral challenges.
Squigz are so fun! They are little suction cup toys that stick to all kinds of surfaces, and each other! These little toys help develop hand strength, precision and dexterity, as well as in-hand manipulation and coordination.
Press and Stay Blocks
These fun blocks stick together when pressed together, and can be put together in endless ways. Blocks like this can help build strength, coordination, bilateral use of the hands and arms, spatial awareness, and stimulate imagination and problem solving skills.
TOYS FOR GROSS MOTOR SKILLS
Gross motor skills are what kiddos use when they run, walk, ride a bicycle, or participate in sports. Here are a couple of fun toys that can help a kiddo develop their gross motor skills!
Pop and Catch
This toss and catch game works on hand/eye coordination, motor planning, and core strength and stability. It can also help vestibular input and strength and stability of shoulder girdle. Win-Win!
When I was a kid, we made these out of old coffee cans and rope, and we had a BALL! Walking on stilts helps develop core strength, vestibular input, and motor planning as well as coordination, balance, and endurance.
OK, this is not really a toy, but there are so many ways to include fun ideas into playing tag, catch, or riding bikes. Games like this really encourage skill development. For a gift, make a little gift certificate for playing active games with your kiddo.
TOYS FOR VISUAL TRACKING SKILLS
Marble Mazes can be arranged in endless ways, limited only by your imagination! Toys like this help develop visual tracking skills that are needed for copying written work and reading, as well as spatial awareness and problem solving.
TOYS FOR SENSORY INTEGRATION
Slime and Play Doh
Slime and Play Doh are childhood staples that help kids work on a variety of skills, but can be really useful to help organize a child’s sensory system. You can add beads, rice, glitter, and other additives to change the input and change the viscosity of the slime or Play-Doh, as well. For added fun and creativity, there are many recipes to make your own slime and dough!
What? A towel? YES! Towels are a versatile and fun addition to the toy collection! You can wrap up in them to provide deep pressure, roll them up and snap them, wave them around, rub the fabric on the skin…all of these activities provide sensory input to the body, which can help organize and calm overstimulated systems, or provide extra input to kiddos who’s system may be underperforming.
So there you have it—10 fun, affordable toys that will help your child develop critical skills, improve and refine existing skills, and promote full integration of the child’s cognitive motor skills. These are gifts that keep giving!
If you have concerns about your child’s development of skills, please reach out to us! We provide free developmental screenings for kiddos of all ages, and would love the opportunity to be of service to your family!