We have been told numerous times over the years that occupational therapists have the best toys. Well, there is a reason for that; occupational therapists, or OT’s, help maximize people’s ability to function maximally in their areas of occupation. A child’s occupation is play. If therapists, who expect children to put in full effort and work hard, don’t have the right “tools”, children frequently lose interest. It is extremely difficult to motivate a child, or anyone for that matter, who is not interested. This leads to the obvious conclusion that we need to make sure we have the best toys.
It was with this in mind that approximately 7 years ago, we decided to reach out to the toy industry. You see, we were finding that toys were becoming higher tech and requiring less and less of children. As technology was “advancing” young infants were learning quickly to kick their feet once and be able to push a button that played the entire Beethoven’s fifth symphony and turn on a series of lights to overstimulate any newborn child. The toy companies were “dumbing down” our kids. Worst of all, we were beginning to see the effects of all this in our children whose attention spans were waning and interest in creativity, experimentation and development of gross and fine motor skills began to take a heavy hit.
So, back to the toy industry. We did some searching on the internet and naively reached out to the International Toy Industry and explained who we were and that our goal was to meet with toy manufacturers about toys that enhanced development. Shockingly, they replied that they would be happy to approve us to come to the International Toy Fair at the Javits Center in NYC as toy buyers. Of course, we were not yet toy buyers (officially). The large toy companies could not care less about hearing our story, but the small companies began to listen. They even anticipated our annual stop at their booth and began to pursue us to purchase and even sell their toys. Meanwhile, the parents of children in our practice were begging us to sell them our toys. Our families had been looking to us for years to guide them on the right types of toys to purchase to help enhance their children’s development while still being fun. Of course, we only had one of each toy so we could not do that!
After a few years of this back and forth, we decided to start selling a few lines of therapy equipment and toys. Before we knew it, we had become toy experts with our own specialty toy store. Here are some of the guidelines we use in recommending toys to parents, grandparents and anyone else looking for the perfect gift:
Look at your child’s age, interests and strengths
Decide what kinds of skills you’d like to enhance with your toy or game. For example, there are games that work on developing speed and timing; eye-hand coordination; fine motor development; turn taking; imagination; logic development; language, speech or emotional maturity and so many others.
Decide your price range and the size of your toy.
In our last article we spoke about traveling with toys, there are such great traveling toys that have minimal pieces that you can keep in your car all the time and not worry about losing pieces. You may want to consider having a variety of markers or crayons and a coloring book that remain in your car.
When buying toys for babies 9-24 months, look for toys that require them to explore and experiment. The lower the technology, the better.
Remember that children around the age of 2 are playing with more pretend-play types of toys such as dolls, pretend food, figurines, and small animals. As children reach the age of 3 to 3 ½ they are more able to participate in playing games with simple, basic instructions.
Riding toys such as trikes, bikes, scooter, Spooners and other great riding toys enhance motor coordination, motor planning, overall strengthening, problem solving, balance and weight shifting and are a great way to get you kid off the couch.
There are so many great building toys that are appropriate for children ages 3 and up that are even enjoyed by young teens. Many of the magnet toys fall into this category.
Remember, as a whole, toys are doing their job when children are both enjoying themselves as well as learning. Best of all, moms and dads, sit down on the floor or at a table and play with your children. This will make any toy or game the best game in the house! Happy holidays.
By Alyssa Colton MA, OTR/L And Aviva Lipner MA, OTR/L