Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
We at Parents put together a great toy guide every year–and you’ll find our latest here–but I admit I’m partial to this one because it comes from my sister, Meghan, a pediatric occupational therapist who works with young children of various abilities. A large part of her job is to engage her kids and help them reach their therapeutic goals by using toys, games, and apps. She is forever on the lookout for the best items, and when she finds them, she enthusiastically writes all about them on her blog, MAC&Toys. (Bookmark it!) And once a year, she pulls together an extravaganza of recommendations, including links to buy and the skills each item addresses (fine motor, visual perception, sensory processing, social, and so on), and sends it to all of the parents of the children she works with. I am making this bold statement: I guarantee you’ll find something on this list you’ll be tempted to buy or know from experience is awesome. I’ll give you a taste with a couple of the items I’m getting for my children.
From Meghan’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide:
Lazoo drawing books There are nine different books to choose from and I can’t say one is better than the other. I adore all of these and each one is so unique and different from other coloring and activity books. My first book was the Holes book and my kids couldn’t get enough. I quickly picked up the Squiggles and Stickers/Incredible Stickers books. Perfect for preschoolers who may not always love coloring and drawing books because the pictures are motivating and exciting for them to complete. Many of the kids I work with get stressed with coloring books because the pictures are too big and their hands get tired. With drawing, they avoid this task because they aren’t quite sure where to start the picture. These books are great because they give you something concrete to begin with and then you can allow your imagination to run wild. These books allow for success and the more successful they are, the more likely they will be to try coloring and drawing activities outside of their comfort zone. Here is a link to the Lazoo Store….warning, you may not be able to stop yourself! (Improves fine motor grasping skills and in-hand manipulation skills; visual motor skills; eye-hand coordination skills; fine motor skills)
Stack Up A great cooperative game perfect for preschoolers or young school age children. The purpose of the game is to work as a team to build a stack of blocks using sticks (the blocks have a hole on either side and children must work together to put their stick in the hole and place it on top of the other blocks). There are challenges as well that keep the kids on their feet and moving around. I love watching the kids figure out how to work together to make the tower. Cooperative games are great for teaching kids the importance of team work and that sometimes winning is not the most important part of a game! (Improves bilateral coordination/using two hands at the same time; sensory processing skills, such as attention and focus; improves gross motor skills, such as jumping or whole body movements)
Go to Meghan’s list for dozens more suggestions for toys, games, apps, and independent toy stores around the country. Happy shopping!
Image: Gift boxes on a colorful background via Shutterstock.
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Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Editor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.
This year, consider an unconventional strategy for holiday gift giving. No, this isn’t an altruistic piece about charity and volunteering—although both are wonderful expressions of the holiday spirit—since reality is reality, and most of us use the holidays to give fun gifts to our kids. Instead of buying budget-busting individual gifts that end up gathering dust by Valentine’s Day, invest in inexpensive presents that will turn your home into the “go to” place for your kids’ friends. Parents’ time with young kids goes by fast, and once they become teenagers, it’s even harder to corral them, see them grow, and eavesdrop on their lives. So, starting in your kids’ pre-teen years, turn your home into a kid magnet.
When I was growing up, my best friend Steve’s dad bought a pool table for himself and his adult friends, but he let us use it as long as he was supervising or within earshot. Steve’s house became “the” house for our friends, and his dad had a front row seat as we turned into little pool sharks. My parents missed seeing me in all of my adolescent bluster on those billiards nights; my wife and I didn’t want that to happen to us.
So, when we stumbled on what seemed like the perfect holiday gift for our tweens at a garage sale years ago, we took a $55 chance; if it wasn’t a hit, we would resell it. But it turned out to be the find of the decade: an honest-to-goodness adult-sized poker table, with a felt-covered center and felt-lined cup holders on each of the six sides, priced at an amazing $25. And, for $5 each, we also bought the six retro orange vinyl chairs that sat around the table. Yes, the table and chairs had seen better days, but none of the cosmetic damage was beyond the cure of a little glue, tape, and paint. By the time my wife (the handy one in the family) finished the tune-up, the set was pretty cool looking, and it fit in with what was already in the basement: the indoor mini-basketball hoop (purchased for $12 at a previous garage sale), the shelves full of board games (including “Twister,” the ultimate game for the awkward tween years), the sports and national parks posters, and the makeshift ping pong table.
We never imagined the impact that poker table would have on our parenting experience. Our basement became the epicenter for our kids’ middle school and high school friends for the next 10 years, until our youngest left for college. Penny-ante poker, blackjack, Texas-hold’em, and “War” alternated at our table. There were Coke cans in the cup holders, chips (poker and potato) scattered across the table, and cards tossed about in celebration or disgust during wonderful weekend nights. Even today, with our kids in college and graduate school, they gather with their old friends over vacations to play poker in our basement! We never figured out what it was about a real poker table—versus a folding, kitchen, or ping pong table—that could create such a profound and prolonged attraction in our basement. But it was a joy to be “the” house that everyone wanted to hang out in, the place where we could eavesdrop on our kids’ very own “World Series of Poker” games, cater the snacks, and watch our kids grow up rather than watching them gravitate to their friends’ houses where the cool stuff was.
Should you buy the biggest TV on the block or the best video game system to draw kids’ attention? This is a very personal, and philosophical, decision. But for my money, the best activities are unplugged and get kids talking and laughing loudly enough that you can eavesdrop from the top of the basement stairs. Only you know your kids well enough to pick the perfect gifts for them and their friends, but pick ones that are age-appropriate. Here’s a short garage sale shopping list, in case you can’t find a poker table, for transforming your house into “the” house: foosball table, air hockey table, pinball machine, board games (trivia, strategy, wordplay, charades), electric train set, mini car racing track, construction toy sets, camping tent, magic set, homemade stage (for music, theater, puppet, magic, and fashion shows), wardrobe cabinet (stocked with cool old clothes, hats, and costume jewelry from your closet or the thrift shop), makeup table, doll house, and play kitchen. You may not stumble on the “find of the decade” on your first try, but with all the money saved by avoiding toy stores, you’ll be able to afford shopping garage sales again next year.
Happy holidays, and happy eavesdropping!
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital Colorado. He is the author of three books for parents and families, including the recent No Regrets Parenting, a Parents advisor, and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
Image: Beautiful living room decorated for Christmas via Shutterstock.
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