December 2, 2021 by Mary VanRavenhorst, OTR/L, BCN

Play is a child’s work and vitally important to learning and development. Toys are the tools for the development of play and self-care. The holidays are a good opportunity to equip your child with great options for growth and development. Helping children learn and grow through play is a big part of what we do as pediatric occupational therapists. Here’s a toy shopping guide from our team at Mankato Clinic.

  1. Look for toys that have durability or can expand with the child’s age, level of development, or imagination. Fisher Price “Thomas the Tank Engine” sets are often interchangeable and can be added to over the years. Durable kitchen sets can teach basic play concepts and can expand the imagination as the child learns to imitate caregivers in daily household activities. The Melissa & Doug series of toys is a favorite here because of durability and craftsmanship. 
  2. Consider safety for your family when purchasing toys. While Legos are a great toy for the child working on building fine motor skills and finger strength, they can be a safety concern for toddlers who are frequently putting objects in their mouths. Solution for safety? Toys with small pieces might be used during quiet time when toddlers are napping, or put together on the dining room table where pieces can be better monitored and managed, or during 1-on-1 time with mom, dad or a special family member. 
  3. Look for toys that provide a variety of multi-sensory experiences and encourage children to develop imagination as well as their senses. Kinetic Sand, Play-Doh, and colorful sticky stretchy slime offer tactile stimulation and exploration. Water Wow reusable activity books by Melissa & Doug provide an early opportunity to paint with water. Swings, jump ropes, bicycles, and scooters offer ways to move and build muscle strength. Not sure your child is ready for a particular toy? Age ranges on the packaging are a good guide to identify toys appropriate for your child’s age and stage of development. You may pick a toy that can expand a child’s skills with a just-right challenge.
  4. Consider books and games to work on socialization and thinking skills such as memory, attention, turn-taking, problem-solving, and language development. Board books are great for the rough and tumble interaction of young readers. Spot-It books are great for working on language and visual perceptual skills. Poke-A-Dot books help develop eye-hand coordination and dexterity. Board games such as Uno Moo, Hasbro Cranium Cariboo, and Candyland help children work on turn taking while developing eye-hand coordination and visual memory with matching of colors and shapes. Older kids will enjoy Connect 4 or Trouble to work on eye-hand coordination, visual perception and strategizing.
  5. Amid the busyness, find a balance between gifts that need assembly and gifts ready to play right out of the package. This will allow excited kiddos to have immediate gratification while parents are able to tend to other duties like preparing the holiday meal. It also extends the excitement throughout the holiday season. Make sure to stock up on extra batteries to avoid the last minute trips to the store!

Mary VanRavenhorst, OTR/L, BCN, is a pediatric occupational therapist at Mankato Clinic Pediatric Therapy Services. Mary enjoys helping children develop to their highest potential. Learn more about Pediatric Therapy Services which includes physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech language therapy.