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The HSS Pediatric Rehabilitation Gift Guide

Children with Presents

As pediatric therapists, we are often asked for toy recommendations for children. Gift giving season is here and our pediatric physical, occupational, and speech therapists got together to provide this holiday shopping guide. This guide is a starting point to identify developmentally appropriate toys which stimulate gross and fine motor skills, speech, language and cognitive development.

As always, make safety a priority. Consider choking hazards (avoid games or toys with small pieces that can come loose and may be put in the mouth) and always provide proper safety equipment for sports gear (e.g. helmets, knee pads, wrist guards, etc.).

Birth to 6 months:

At the beginning of this age, infants are mostly interested in having their basic needs of comfort and love met, while at the end of this phase infants are more curious and interactive. Toys should provide sensory stimulation, promote tummy time, as well as to promote interaction between the child and caregiver encouraging vocalization and babbling. Play during this time is characterized by visual exploration, banging, shaking and mouthing objects. Consider choosing toys that are appealing to the developing senses of vision, hearing and touch as well as toys that a child can play with in different positions such as:

  • Mirrors
  • Toys with black, white, and red contrasting designs
  • Music players or musical toys
  • Soothing sounds and lights (e.g. aquarium, rain stick, musical ring stacker)
  • Activity quilts and play mats/busy gyms with stimulating parts for tummy time and with hanging toys to promote reaching and swatting when child is on his or her back
  • Mobiles
  • Colorful teething rings
  • Books or toys with varied textures
  • Small ball with holes to allow child to grip with both hands
  • Rattles: hand held to manipulate, sock or wrist rattles

6 to 12 months:

At this time, children are increasingly active as they are learning to sit, manipulate objects with their hands, crawl, and pull to stand. Consider toys that promote learning how to use objects together (e.g., put in/take out), cause and effect (e.g., pop-up or swipe activated toys), understanding routine activities (e.g., pushing a shopping cart, hugging a doll) and the value of social interaction through sound play and emerging words (i.e. give me, help me, all done) such as:

  • Stationary play table with music and buttons and levers to operate (many of these tables can be adjusted by adding or subtracting legs – use it with no legs for tummy time, two legs for seated play, and four legs for standing activities)
  • Stacking blocks or rings
  • Pop beads, blocks or toys that pull apart
  • Shape sorters, containers to put in and take out objects
  • Cause and effect toys
  • Board books
  • Musical instruments (keyboard, xylophone, drums, tambourine) give great multi-sensory feedback, encourage engagement with others, singing and hand use
  • Standing push toys (e.g. shopping carts, lawn mowers, etc.)
  • “Push and go” cars or trains, balls, and other toys that move to promote crawling and environmental exploration

1 to 2 years:

At this age, children begin to navigate their environment on two feet and use true words and phrases. Play reflects how children are more actively participating in daily routines through functional use of toys (e.g., using a phone to make calls), representational play (e.g., using a banana as a phone) and linking activities together (e.g., pretend grocery shopping and meal prep). Consider toys to promote mobility, hand use manipulating toys of different sizes, spatial concepts, child/caregiver interaction and promote acting out daily activities such as:

  • Walking toys for pushing and pulling (e.g. wagons, strollers, etc.)
  • Ride-on toys
  • Toys on a pull string (e.g. dog on wheels on a leash)
  • Balls of all sizes
  • Fat crayons
  • 3 to 5 piece puzzles with knobs
  • Stacking toys with sorting of different shapes and colors
  • Symbolic/pretend play (e.g. kitchen tools, play farms or doll houses with toy animals and people)
  • Large beads for stringing (provide thick string)
  • Picture and finger play books
  • Bath toys
  • Large ( soft or cardboard)  blocks
  • Child size household items (e.g. kitchen utensils, plates, food) that promote engagement in feeding and meal time routines

3 to 5 years

This is a time for developing strength, balance, coordination and use of language to narrate and share information. Play during this time is characterized by building games, imaginary play, play with others, movement and games with simple rules. Consider toys for this age group which improve coordination, encourage pretend play, cognition and early literacy such as:

  • Scaled down sports equipment
  • Tricycle
  • 3-wheeled scooter
  • Building blocks and construction toys
  • Coloring books and activity books with simple mazes or connect the dots
  • Art supplies (e.g. finger paints, molding dough, markers)
  • Beginner board games with simple directions
  • Memory card games
  • Pretend play (e.g. kitchens, workbenches, doctor kits, dress up, etc.)
  • Interlocking puzzles
  • Story books, rhyming books

6 to 8 years:

At this age, coordination is improving on the playground and in the classroom. Children enjoy peer play and games with complex rules. Language explodes during this time as they understand how to use language to direct interactions. Consider toys that promote physical activity, attention, and social interaction such as:

  • Bicycle
  • Jump rope
  • Roller skates
  • Sports equipment (e.g. basketball hoop, bat, ball, glove, hockey stick, lacrosse stick, football, etc.)
  • Hula hoop
  • Card games
  • Board games or problem solving games
  • Writing/drawing games
  • Chapter books
  • Interactive video games that encourage activity (e.g. dancing, sports, hand-eye coordination skills)

As the saying goes, sometimes the best things in life are free. Save large boxes and paper from gifts and new holiday purchases to create and construct! A box can transform into a rocket ship, theater set or fort and paper can be fun to rip, cut, and roll up to use to decorate that box or to create the latest art masterpiece to hang on the fridge!

Enjoy shopping for your friends and family! Remember to take the time this holiday season to play with the children around you: it’s a perfect opportunity to make life long memories together!

Image - Lauren Menino

Lauren Menino MS, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist in the CA Technologies Rehabilitation Center at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion. She enjoys working with children and families referred for a variety of diagnoses including developmental delay, orthopedicscerebral palsy, and sensory integration. Lauren has experience and further training in vision, social skills development, handwriting and school readiness, treatment of medically complex patients, application of orthotics, and neuro-developmental treatment.

Image - Deborah Corradi-Scalise

Deborah Corradi-Scalise PT, DPT, MA, C/NDT has over 25 years of experience practicing as a pediatric physical therapist in a variety of hospital, school and private practice settings. She has a passion for working with infants and children with neuromuscular disorders and developmental delays. Debbie has lectured at academic institutions and presented nationally on Pediatric Physical Therapy and Cerebral Palsy and is certified in Pediatric and Baby Neurodevelopmental Treatment. 

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.