The holidays are such a magical time of year, especially for children. I have so many distinct memories as a kid linked back to the little things that made the holidays special: The piney smell of the old boxes we pulled out from the basement, wearing our jammies all day and eating sweets, our box of holiday books that were only read in December, then stored away the rest of the year, the bright packages with so much excitement, wondering what was inside.
This year’s holiday season will likely look different for a lot of our families, but the magic that is gift giving is alive and well. When giving gifts, it’s not all about quantity. We all know many of our kids have too much ‘stuff’ as it is! This year, be thoughtful about your purchases. Think about the age of the kiddo you are shopping for. Are they under 2 years old? They may get just as much joy about ripping paper off a box and playing in that box, as they would a big, fancy, expensive toy. Consider wrapping up essentials for them (e.g., puff snacks, winter hat, diapers, etc.).
When you are shopping this year here are some qualities to look for in a toy:
- Toys that can be used in more than one way or are open-ended
- Items that are study and well made
- Items that can be wiped down or hold up in the washing machine!
- Toys that will grow with the kid and they can enjoy for years to come
Some qualities, as therapists, we try to avoid:
- Toys that are overstimulating (batteries required not always a good thing!)
- Cause and effect toys that go on for too long after they have been activated
If you have the means, consider being thoughtful about where you purchase items this year. Amazon is going to make it through this pandemic, but some of our smaller local shops may not! Some of our favorites are Room of One’s Own, Little Luxuries and Anthology, downtown Madison. You could also consider supporting black owned kids and baby stores.
Now for what you’ve been waiting for– Just tell us what to buy already! We’ve broken this down into a few age ranges, but they are by no means exhaustive. Many of these suggestions could be used at almost any age and that is intentional! We love toys that can be continued to be loved at all ages! These are toys our staff has grown to genuinely love over the years of playing for a living. We are not financially supported by any of the companies/retailers we’ve included below. Shop around. Many of these toys are sold at more retailers than we provided.
Toys recommended for ages 1 and up!
- Musical toys
- Panda Drum is our new favorite this year with a more peaceful tone. Could be used for some guided meditation for older kiddos!
- Various obstacle course equipment
- Crash pad (Duvet cover filled with fluff)
- Soft Foam blocks
- Wooden blocks
- Play house, people, farms, play food
- Soft playground balls or any ball
- Sandra Boynton is one of our favorite authors
- Love by Matt de la Pena is one of my favorites to buy for new mamas- the art is unbelievable and so inclusive!
- Toy cars
Toys Recommended for Ages 2-4 (and Beyond!):
- Potato Head
- Pop The Pig
Toys Recommended for Ages 5+:
- Uno Dare
- STEM set
- Snap Circuits
- Big Life Journal
- Scooters (upright and scooter boards)
- Light up sneakers
- Obstacle Course Equipment
Experiential Gifts and Subscriptions:
- Raddish Subscription
- Picky eating/positive food experiences, executive function
- Little Passports
- Class at local pottery studio (Fired Up Pottery & Midwest Clay Project)
- Highlights Magazine
Gift Ideas to support Virtual Learning:
- Alternate seating options
- Stability ball
- Weighted lap blanket
- Gross motor equipment for movement breaks
- Foam Balance Beam
- Crash pads (duvet cover filled with fluff)
- Our Favorite [not-so-distracting] Fidgets:
Artsy Gift Ideas:
- Basics (construction paper, felt squares, glue)
- Smelly Markers
- Kwik sticks
- Slime kits
- Water Beads
- Kinetic Sand
- Shrinky Dinks!
- Watercolor pens/paper
- This set of watercolor paints I swear by for older kids who are really getting into the craft!
- I also love the new trend for water inside the brush, so you squeeze as you go!
Don’t be afraid to ask your therapist for recommendations that are more tailored to your child. We all LOVE to talk about toys!
Written by: Megan Wisniewski, MS, OTR/L, Kim Zaspel, COTA and the entire Sun Prairie therapy team
Give the toys that are powered by imagination, not batteries.
-H. Jackson Brown