Unplug Your Gift Giving This Year

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us are anxiously trying to get all of our holiday gifts purchased…searching for that perfect one. With all the hype and craze of the “hottest-selling” toys, sometimes it takes a little bit of stepping back to the basics to find the “perfect” gift.

When we really dissect toys that benefit the overall well-being of a child, the ones at the top of the list typically do not require the use of a screen, device or even batteries for that matter. They are the ones that allow a child to touch, feel, manipulate, problem solve and be creative, all while improving fine motor, gross motor, visual motor and coordination skills. Oftentimes, these toys can be used in a variety of ways, ensuring a longer shelf life in your toy closet with multiple benefits. It just takes the right set of eyes and the right mindset to find them. Here are some ideas.

Why not give the gift of building this year? From infant nesting cups to complex Lego® sets, building toys are crucial to a child’s development. Building toys help develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness, while promoting problem solving and encouraging creativity. They also improve cooperation skills when working with a peer, while also building excitement and confidence. Children can build with almost anything—cups, blocks, boxes and soup cans, but skills can be enhanced when using sets such as Lego® or K’NEX®. Blocks can be found in foam, cloth, wood and plastic, and in practically any shape. So, allow your child the endless possibilities of the gift of building!

Think outside the box and give the gift of creativity. By wrapping up gifts that include Play-Doh® or clay, crayons, and markers, you are opening the world for a child to improve his or her fine motor skills, including tool use, which is greatly needed for handwriting skills. Using craft supplies such as beads, gems and feathers to create art improves confidence while allowing children to work on visual perceptual and fine motor skills. Arts and crafts are also a great way to relieve stress and anxiety with many of our children. It has been found that some children will open up and talk more when engrossed in a coloring activity. Just walk down the store aisle to find a plethora of crayons and markers, various types of coloring books, and all the embellishments to make craft time fun. Give the gift of creativity, and unwrap the little artist inside!

Try wrapping up fun with the gift of games. Depending on the nature of the game, board and card games offer a wide variety of benefits. Oftentimes, these games can be used to enhance academic skills, such as counting, matching and shape or letter identification, while also enhancing fine motor, visual perceptual and social skills. Games are most successful when a child can follow directions as well as sit and attend.

From early-age card-matching games to games of strategy such as Monopoly, there are endless ways to have fun during these winter months. There are also more and more games that include active involvement, which is a great way to keep kids interested. Games such as Pie Face! include a great tactile component, and also a good laugh. You will want to do some research, as there are many, many types of games on the market, but this year, consider giving their eyes a break with the gift of a screenless game.

Despite it being winter, you can still give the gift of movement. Playing with balls can be fun at any age, whether it involves rolling back and forth with a toddler or catching and tossing with an older child. The development of good hand-eye coordination is beneficial to overall bilateral coordination and enhances math and reading skills. And there are some very cool ways to gain these skills with toys on the market. Giving the gift of bikes, scooters and other ride-on toys helps develop bilateral coordination, balance and overall body awareness. Wrap up a swing, toy slide or any other item that encourages a child to get out to play. Indoor basketball hoops, trampolines or even game tables (air hockey, pool) provide hours of fun. Play that involves movement helps to improve attention and focus. Don’t be trapped thinking only about indoor activities; the gift of movement can happen both inside and out!

And don’t forget the pure joy in the gift of imagination. From dolls to dress-up to any items that encourage pretend play of school, house or restaurant, creative and imaginary play is very important. There are toy figure sets for any favorite character these days, so enabling children to create their only storyline with some favorite on-screen “friends” is priceless. It enhances creativity, fine motor manipulation, and social skills. Items such as toy kitchens, workbenches or doctor sets are great ways to encourage and inspire role playing. From baby dolls to junior dolls, playing with dolls encourages nurturing and life skills. By working on self-confidence, creativity and social skills, these activities hold so much value in the development of children. Imagine the possibilities with the gift of imagination.

So, as you are walking down those toys aisles with a list of names in your hand, think about the many benefits of getting back to basics. Give the gift of being unplugged.