Around this time of year, I get a lot of parents who ask “what kind of gift is best for my child?” Being a occupational therapist with a passion for children, I always try to give a gift that is both educational and engaging. Here are my top four picks for gifts, based on age group:
1 to 3 years old: LEGO/DUPLO
Chunky LEGO or DUPLO sets are a wonderful gift for this age because they target a variety of developmental skills critical for this age group. With LEGOs, a child can work on grasping, hand dominance, following directions, color recognition, and visual skills, amongst others. Chunky LEGOs are large enough to encourage an open web space (between the index and thumb), which will promote an essential grasping pattern needed for everything from self-feeding skills to pre-writing skills. You can work on hand dominance by placing the LEGOs directly in front of the child and observing which hand they reach with most often. Encourage color recognition, visual skills and following directions by creating patterns with the LEGOs that your child can replicate. The possibilities are endless!
3 to 7 years old: Tunnels
The primary “job” of children in this age group is to learn about their bodies and build endurance through play. They need gross motor active exploration of their environment to learn to control their level of arousal so they can sit in a classroom. Children will usually crawl in a 4-point position through a tunnel, which will also address hand strength and further develop the “arches” in the palm of the hand that are needed for appropriate grasping and handwriting skills. Crawling through a tunnel will also activate the proprioceptors in the large joints of the body, which can encourage calming of the nervous system.
7 to 11 years old: Sorry! board game
Sorry! is a 4-player board game where you have to get your pawns around the board faster than the other players. The game’s title comes from a particular card that is drawn in the game; the card sends your opponent back to the starting position, prompting you to say “Sorry!” As an occupational therapist, I love this game for this age group because it addresses counting, turn-taking and frustration tolerance. It can also address language development and communication – BONUS!
11 years old and up: Rush Hour board game
Rush Hour (and Rush Hour, Jr) is an adaptable game for this age group with different levels for different skill levels, so it can grow with your child! Rush Hour is a logic and reasoning game where the player acts as “traffic cop” by manipulating the other vehicles on the board to help their car get through the gridlock. Rush Hour targets higher level, executive function and problem solving skills. It can also address frustration tolerance because as the levels increase, so does the difficulty!
These are my four favorites, but many children’s games and toys can do “double duty” as therapeutic tools – just keep your eyes open for ways to work on the skills noted above!
Claire Whatley, MS, OTR/L