December 1, 2020

What are some of the best toys for promoting my child’s development? 

This is a very popular question I get around the holidays from parents and grandparents. Here are some of my favorite toys we use in therapy that are fun, and also promote developmental skills related to fine motor and gross motor skills. 

Infants & Toddlers (under 3 years) 

  • Balls of various sizes and toys that pull apart and push together (like Bristle Blocks, Large Duplos Legos) that promote use of both hands, gross motor skills, and fine motor strength.  
  • Magnetic stacking blocks. Magnetic blocks help promote stacking skills and also can be pulled apart to work on bilateral hand use. 
  • Shape sorter and large wooden puzzles with large knobs, large coin piggy bank. Toys that require putting items into containers promote fine motor and visual motor skills.  
  • Spin Again Spinning Stacker. Placing various sized round gears on a peg gets really fun as they spin round and round down a corkscrew. 
  • Pound a ball, hammer toys. Toys with tools are an easy and fun way to promote fine motor development. 
  • Mr. Potato Head. A classic toy great for fine motor development and teaching body parts. 
  • Bath toys. Toys that involve pouring water can improve fine motor skills and self help skills.  
  • Large foam gym blocks. Large durable blocks are great for encouraging gross motor development by climbing on and over. They are great for working on stacking, have many uses for pretend play, and allow a child to jump and crash upon safely.  
  • Marble run. Larger versions are terrific for fine motor and gross motor skills.  

Ages 3-6 

  • Easel. Painting and writing on vertical surfaces promote proper fine motor and pencil grasp development. 
  • Cooking toys and food sets with utensils. Toy food pretend plays helps improve fine motor skills and helps kids learn how to use utensils. 
  • Kid-sized gardening tools. Gardening is a wonderful sensory experience for children and garden tools work on upper body strength.  
  • Dolls and dress-up costumes. Dressing and undressing dolls and putting on and taking off costumes provide practice for dressing and self-help skills. 
  • Wind up toys and fidget toys. Great for fine motor skills and also to help improve focusing when fidgety.  

Developing Gross Motor Skills 

  • Grocery baskets. More stable than push toys, miniature realistic baskets are great for putting items in  (and out of) the basket and pushing around; improves gross motor skills and lower body strength. 
  • Plasma car. Incorporates motor planning and whole body work; safe indoors. 
  • Small trampoline or hippity hop ball: Great for jumping and fantastic tools to get the wiggles out, especially on rainy days. 

Classics (Age 6 & up)  

  • Simon 
  • Memory 
  • Hi Ho Cherry O 
  • Etch a Sketch, Aqua Doodle, Magna Doodle  
  • Lite Brite 
  • Ants in the Pants 
  • Operation  
  • Battleship 
  • Don’t Break the Ice 

All Ages 

  • Tents, bean bags, large cushions, tunnels. Perfect for setting up a home cozy corner that can offer your child a safe place to reset, regroup, or relax with a book.  
  • Kinetic sand, modeling clay, floam, model magic, play do, slime. Multi-sensory toys encourage sensory exploration through touch, decrease touch sensitivity, and promote fine motor skills. 
  • Art supplies: Pastels, oils, finger paints, dry erase markers, crayons, chalk. The younger the child is, the shorter and fatter the paint brush or art tool should be.  
  • Toys with tongs. Improve fine motor skills, especially when incorporated already into a game. (Fruit Stand Avalanche is a favorite.)  

Many of these toys can be used across all ages, and all will provide endless fun while improving your child’s developmental skills. Use best judgement as to what your child would like to engage in most.  

 Kimberly Bradley, MS, LOTR, is a pediatric occupational therapist and owner of Kim4Kids in Metairie. 

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