35 Holiday Gift Ideas for Therapeutic Play
By Joanna Keating-Velasco
The holiday season is here in full swing. With the holidays quickly approaching, it may be hard to figure out an appropriate gift to give to children impacted by various isms. Consider giving a gift that offers therapeutic play opportunities.
While some toys are good for any kid, having some gift ideas specifically geared towards various “isms” or challenges might be helpful. While each child is unique in his or her abilities, interests and challenges, this list might give you some ideas to help make your holiday shopping a bit easier.
This Holiday Gift Guide is broken down into seven categories with five gift suggestions in each of the following categories: Sensory, Visual, Hearing, Cognitive, Social Skills, Gross Motor, and Fine Motor.
Many of the toys suggested can definitely cross over categories. If you are seeking hands on toys that are loads of fun and at the same time offer a therapeutic twist—then look no further. Happy Holidays!
Sensory Therapeutic Play
Play-Dough Sets with tools offer tactile sensory input and help support fine motor and motor planning.
Sensory Play Balls of various sizes and textures are perfect to stuff stockings. Smaller knobby balls offer tactile input and serve as wonderfully calming fidgets.
Big Bean Bag Chairs for relaxing or squishing. They offer calming proprioceptive sensory input and are a wonderful place to curl up to read a book or listen to books on tape or unwind while watching a favorite movie. Look for bean bags that offer additional texture such as faux fur.
Weighted Vest or Weighted Stuffed Animals or Body Sox all offer calming and regulating proprioceptive input. A vest could be worn at school or at home during homework to help regulate squirmy bodies. A weighted stuffed animal can be the perfect cozy companion to help children focus during circle time or during story time at home. The Body Sox is just good old sensory fun for the sensory seeker!
Inside Swings or Ball Pits – Indoor swings offer loads of organizing vestibular input and are available in some cozy and snug styles so that proprioceptive input can be had as well. Ball pits come in a wide variety of options and are fun way for kids to garner proprioceptive input.
Visual Therapeutic Play
Wooden Peg Puzzles that are appropriate for the child’s age and ability will develop visual perceptual skills and support visual discrimination.
Tactile Books with touchy feely pages. These books incorporate different textures for the child to experience while reading. Usually targeted to the toddler-preschool age bracket, tactile books help children develop knowledge in a multi-sensory capacity.
Soccer Ball with Bells has bells inside or some balls may beep. These balls allow for all kids to enjoy the game of soccer and are perfect for children with low vision.
Light Up Ball Toys and Glow Pets Night Lights stimulate the visual sense while Hand-Held Vibrating Animal Massager Toys offer tactile stimulation. LiteBrix Building Sets and Orbiting LED Wands offer children good old fun!
Auditory Therapeutic Play
Specifically for children with hearing impairment, the following toys are wonderful additions to aural habilitation play. These toys suggestions are made to provide the child with hearing impairment the stimulation to their other senses with images, visuals, vibrations or lights, etc. It is important to stimulate other senses besides vision. Look for toys that encourage reaching, sequencing, grasping, and releasing as well.
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Play-Away Preloaded Audio Books from the library or consider Audible audio books. When reading a book while listening to the audio book it helps to enhance reading and comprehension, especially in children with visual isms.
Therapeutic Social & Play Skills
Turn-Taking Games such as Candy Land, Uno, Jenga, or Zingo are wonderful choices to develop social turn-taking play.
Play Parachutes for family interaction encourages non-competitive play and teaches cooperation. This multiple player activity reinforces turn taking and sharing and helps children discover the benefits of following directions. It is a wonderful indoor or outdoor toy to promote social interaction with children.
Mr. Potato Head and friends will encourage the children to create different roles for each Potato. Added benefit is working with all those tiny pieces will help build fine motor skills.
Doctor or Veterinarian Kit for pretend play. In a high tech world, we seem to be moving away from imagination driven pretend play. However, pretend play is incredible important to child development. It’s through pretend play that children learn about themselves and the world. Children develop important complex social and higher order thinking skills. Pretend play time is when children cultivate social and emotional intelligence and synthesize their knowledge and skills.
Baby Dolls, Play People or Action Figures are wonderful toys to foster pretend play, build on social skills by having the characters play unique roles and solve real world problems.
Gross Motor Therapeutic Play
Scooter Boards or Scooters or both! They both offer wonderful opportunities to develop gross motor skills and provide vestibular input.
Large Yoga Balls for bouncing and balancing activities. Whether sitting and bouncing on it while watching a favorite show, using it instead of a chair in the classroom or doing a wide variety of exercises to develop gross motor skills—therapy balls offer endless opportunities for fun.
Pogo Stick or a Trampoline will provide loads of proprioceptive input and hours of fun while building upon gross motor skills.
Bowling Set Whether you set up indoor bowling, backyard bowling or head off to the bowling alley, bowling offers loads of sensory input and helps to develop gross motor skills.
Playground balls can provide endless hours of fun! Play dodge ball, kick ball, four square, or simply bounce the ball into the wall for individual practice.
Fine Motor Therapeutic Play
Therapy Putty or “Brain Food” Toys provide children with hand and finger strengthening along with tactile sensory input.
Lace and Trace or Beading Activities give little fingers a workout to help develop fine motor skills.
Lego or Building Block Sets offer hours of pincer skill development for those itty bitty lego pieces and children get load of practice manipulating their fingers and hands as they build, take apart and rebuild.
Craft Kits Depending on your child’s interests and abilities, there is a plethora of kit choices available to create wonderful play opportunities while developing fine motor skills.
Magnetic Maze Manipulative Learning Games offer educational opportunities while playing with tiny magnets putting fine motor skills to work.
Cognitive Therapeutic Play
Puzzles of various types and sizes suitable to your child’s age and interest. Get children to critically think while using their visual perceptual skills.
Cause and Effect Toys teach children if/then skills. If I do this, then this will happen. Through a child’s exploration, experimentation, and play, children learn that they can cause things to change or happen.
Sorting Toys offer children the cognitive concept of making predictions. Development of this skill offers a sense of success, builds confidence, and fosters independence by encouraging logical and lateral thinking.
Plastic Pattern Blocks with Activity Cards provides more opportunities to develop prediction skills.
Flashcards or Memory Games provide healthy exercise to the child’s brain offering improved concentration, enhanced cognitive skills, and boosts visual memory.
Although I have listed 35 specific gift suggestions, one of my favorite gift giving suggestions is to provide the child with an actual experience. Consider tickets or annual passes to your local museums or zoos. Think about taking children to a musical, the circus or a Disney on Ice Show. Plan a day trip on a train. Consider your child’s passions and then translate those passions into an adventure. Lastly, children’s books are always a great gift, especially if you consider the child’s interests and capabilities in your selection. Whatever you decide, I wish you a wonderful holiday season!
About the author: Joanna Keating-Velasco has worked with students with various special needs ages 3 through 22 as a Paraprofessional for over fifteen years and is currently specializing in adult transition. She has authored two books, A Is for Autism, F Is for Friend and In His Shoes – A Short Journey through Autism. Learn more about Joanna at A is for Autism.