While working as a pediatric occupational therapist, I would always get the same question around this time of year: “What should I get my kid for Christmas?” The parents wanted suggestions for fun toys that would help their child make progress toward their goals. There are so many toys out there that shopping can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you are trying to figure out which toys would be beneficial! I’ve searched for other gift guides, but typically find they are too general. My goal is to help families find quality gifts that can serve a purpose in their child’s development. (These are only suggestions. Please follow the advice of your occupational therapist to help determine what is appropriate for your child. Also, you know your child- please choose gifts that will be used safely- i.e., no small pieces for a child who puts toys in their mouth.) I have separated these guides by needs, not diagnosis or age, because each kid is so different that age and diagnosis only tells us a little bit.
I partnered with Tools 4 Teaching, a local store in Evansville, to come up with a series of gift guides that target specific needs. This project really spoke to the owner, Julie, because she has asked the same question to occupational therapists regarding her children! As a mom of children with special needs and a former educator, she has a passion for helping families find what they need to help their children overcome learning obstacles and have fun. Julie has offered to give 20% off in-store purchases to anyone who mentions this blog or shows the coupon at the bottom of the post! Many of the toys listed are available at her store.
Fine motor skills are the heart and soul of occupational therapy. Sure, we work on a little bit of everything, it seems, but if you want to know how to best support your child’s fine motor skill development, you ask an OT. Fine motor skills are important for everything from writing to buttoning a shirt! If you are reading this post, you are likely cradling your phone in your hand, using your thumb to scroll, while using your other hand to delicately grasp one piece of your snack at a time (or shoving fistfuls of it into your mouth, I’m not judging) and feed yourself, or you are running hands through your hair, or any number of things we mindlessly do. All of these actions require fine motor skills that you have spent years developing.
I have separated this list into sub skills for fine motor development. They won’t be divided by age because I feel that the gift-giver is the one who will have to decide if the skill-appropriate gift is also age-appropriate for that child. Many of the suggested items will apply to several different categories.
1.) Pincer Grasp
A pincer grasp is when you use your thumb tip and finger tip to grasp an object. One of the most common ways a child learns a pincer grasp is through self-feeding, but the toys listed below will help build skills outside of eating!
Avalanche Fruit Stand is such a great game for fine motor development! The tweezers have little spots for fingers and thumbs that promote a good pencil grasp position.
This piggy-bank style game is a good way to develop an approximate pincer grasp. The child might use their thumb and multiple fingers, but it gets them heading in the right direction.
Froggy Feeding Fun can address hand strength as well as pincer grasp!
Design and Drill. A child uses a pincer grasp (or thumb and two fingers) to pick up and place the screws into the board. The drill helps address hand strength. Any kid that I have used this with has loved this game!
Play your own version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar with these cute lacing toys! A three-point grasp would be used to push and pull the string through the holes. This is suitable for children with a beginning pincer grasp.
These Peg People are great for developing a strong pincer grasp!
Of course, Legos, stringing beads, and Light Brights are also great pincer-grasp improving toys!
2.) Hand Strength
Hand strength can encompass finger strength, grip strength, and overall muscle control and endurance.
Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is like Silly Putty times ten! Manipulating the putty (twisting, pulling, squishing, poking) increases hand strength and dexterity. Plus, the putty has cool properties like glowing and heat sensitivity.
Play-Doh is a favorite of mine! This set has tools that encourage strong hands! Play-Doh can be squished, rolled (good for intrinsic hand strength!), pinched, poked, and smashed for an all-over hand workout.
Slime Squeezer set. These fun little activities will help build strength in hands and fingers while getting to play with slime and bubbles!
Use these tools to squeeze, grab, and squirt! Available at Tools 4 Teaching.
This Boogie Board is a fun way to practice holding a writing utensil and making lines, scribbles, and dots for the pre-writing crowd, or it is a fun way to practice letters and numbers for the writing crowd! It is like a modern Magna-doodle!
I LOVE these crayons. They glide smoothly on paper and produce rich colors. They fit in the palm of a pre-writer’s hand to encourage coloring with fingers pointed toward the paper instead of in a fist on a regular crayon.
Melissa and Doug always has the best toys! This water-activated pad reveals colors as a kid uses the water pen to “color” the pictures!
This wipe-clean activity book is great to pull out for your child while they’re waiting for a meal or snack to be ready. They can practice different strokes that are needed to write letters and numbers while increasing their dexterity! Bonus points if they are keeping their hand still and using just finger motions (intrinsic movements) to move the marker!
4.) Bilateral Hand Use (Both Hands Together)
Coordinating both hands together is a skill needed for play, self-help skills, and school skills. Think of all the activities you do during the day that requires two hands to work together: buttoning a shirt, making a sandwich, holding a book and turning pages, carrying a lunch tray. . .
Pretend and Play Fruits and Veggies: Children use one hand to stabilize the fruits or veggies while the other hand uses the knife to slice them apart!
Picasso Tiles: The magnetic tiles use both hands to build and tear apart! Plus, they are a lot of fun!
Zoom Ball! It’s a two person activity, but you can change it up by opening your arms in different patterns and having your child mimic you (think: out to the side, one up one down, diagonals, high, low, etc.)
Hopefully this list gives you a few ideas and maybe a starting place to find the perfect gift for your child! Let me know if you have any must-have fine motor toys this Christmas!
401 S Green River Rd, Evansville, IN 47715
Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, so many of the links (pictures) used in this post are my affiliate links. The price is no different for you, but I would earn a small commission on your purchase. If you find the items I have listed at a local toy store, by all means, support your local store!