Perfect Kids’ Gifts

4145356341_281a4276e6_tMy sister is the best kids’-gift giver I know. Every single present she’s bought for my children over the years has been perfect for their age and developmental stage, not to mention something I hadn’t thought to give, and most importantly a hit with my girls. (No pressure on me this holiday season, her 8-month-old daughter’s first! And now I know how my two other sisters have felt for the past five years.) Part of the reason she’s so good at this is because it’s her job to know what kids like; she’s a pediatric occupational therapist here in NYC and one of the founding members of The Meeting House, an innovative after-school program for children who need a little extra help socializing and communicating. So she can spot a good toy, game, and activity a mile away.

Each year she creates a list of gift ideas for the parents of the children she works with. For the most part, the kids are between 3 and 8. The list is so helpful, I asked her if I could share it here. (In a few cases, her picks echo some of the toys we here at Parents picked for our 2010 holiday toy guide, or have featured in a previous issue.) The descriptions are hers, except where I chime in as noted:

To work on increasing independence and comfort for dressing:

EZ Sox are adorable socks that have little handles on them for small hands.  Helps young children learn how to put on their own socks without the frustration that typically comes along with that. [From Kara: My 2-year-old happens to be better at putting on her socks than my 5-year-old, but they're both getting these this year.]

If you have a child who doesn’t like tags or has a difficult time with the feeling of some clothing, the brand Soft Clothing is perfect.  Really cute clothes without tags, seams, etc.. [From Kara: We've featured these in Parents. The designs are very cool.]

School readiness gifts:

If you have a child who is showing an interest in reading, Bob Books are perfect!  These are fantastically simple books that use phonics to work on teaching a child how to read.  I have recommended these books to many families over the years and all report success.  There is nothing like watching your child read for the first time! [From Kara: I actually got these here at work, and when I opened them, I was unimpressed. The "stories" were so basic and boring, I couldn't imagine my 5-year-old enjoying them. It wasn't until my sister mentioned them in passing that I decided to bring them home. OMG. I can't believe I almost deprived Julia of these books. She took to them immediately and was literally clapping in delight when she could read each page. Not only that, my 2-year-old, Lila, has gotten her hands on them, as she does with anything Julia shows any interest in, and now carries them everywhere and fake-reads, to copy her big sister.]

I have been using Kumon Workbooks across all ages for the last several years.  The pictures are colorful and motivating for the children.  There isn’t one book in the collection I wouldn’t recommend!

Block building/Manipulatives:

Magna-Tiles were recommended to me a few years back by one of my families as a toy I had to have for the office.  They have gotten tons of use.  I use them to work on building visual perceptual skills, creativity, and imagination skills.  They are easy to use and easy to store.  Also great for working on shape and color recognition.

Jawbones Construction Toys are a new favorite of mine.  They improve visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills.  At the same time, we can work on increasing grasp strength and in-hand manipulation skills.

For those children who love Legos and building things, Bloco Toys are perfect. Helps children work on matching shapes, following directions, and increasing grasp strength.

Zoomorphs are ideal for increasing grasp strength and using two hands together.  Also great for working on imagination and creativity skills.  Build all kinds of fun animals and have your child tell you stories about the animals’ adventures.


Stormy Seas is a great game from Hape that works on motor planning, problem-solving and increasing a child’s frustration tolerance.  My favorite part is that there are no batteries necessary! [From Kara: We looove this game in our house, though we have to keep my 2-year-old from gleefully knocking it over. We feature Hape pretty regularly in Parents because their stuff is ultra creative and both back-to-basics and forward-thinking at the same time.]

Bialo, also from Hape, has been a big hit this year at the gym.  Challenging at first, but once the children get a hang of it, they don’t want to stop playing!  Works on problem solving, modulation and regulation and color recognition.

Rapido is another non-battery operated wooden game that has been a hit this year.  (If you haven’t noticed, I love this company and their products.) Works on color recognition, patterns and sequencing.  Great for improving eye-hand coordination as well. [From Kara: Such a simple premise but it really keeps my 5-year-old entertained.]

Another gym favorite!  Whac-A-Mole can work on ton of skills, including eye-hand coordination, improving auditory processing/listening skills and color recognition.

Tumblin Monkeys is an adorable game that children ask to play all the time.  A lot like the famous marble game, Kerplunk, but uses monkeys instead.  Great for improving matching colors, promotes a more age-appropriate fine-motor grasp.

Arts and Crafts:

Sticky mosaics are always the perfect gift.  These are great because they are colorful, easy to do and the children get a beautiful finished product at the end.  Perfect for working on increasing grasp strength, matching colors and numbers, and eye-hand coordination.

Shrinky Dinks are always a big hit and they have all kinds of different sets now.  Wonderful and motivating way to work on coloring, cutting and following multi-step directions.

Scratch Magic sets are always a big hit with the children.  Again, they have all different kinds of sets to work with so boys and girls can enjoy this.  Great way to work on handwriting, coloring, drawing, etc.

You can never go wrong with Crayola products.  My favorite is the Pip-Squeak collection.  Great for promoting a proper grasp for the younger children.  You can also find lots of coloring pages and other fun holiday activities at Crayola’s site.

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  1. by Ellen at Love That Max

    On November 29, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    This is SUCH a great list! I now have even more stuff to add to Max’s gift list. A big thanks to you and your sis.

  2. by Stephanie

    On November 30, 2010 at 10:06 am

    These are GREAT ideas! Thanks so much…I’m ordering several now :)