Buying gifts for children can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially when we are constantly inundated with all the latest gadgets and gizmos. Sometimes, going back to the basics is the perfect solution. And even better, NONE of the toys I recommend below require batteries!
Here are 12 toys and activities that will not only keep your child’s attention, but are usually very affordable and will provide opportunities to strengthen their imagination, language skills, motor skills, and sensory systems.
- Bathtub crayons. Whether your child loves to write or struggles with this skill, bathtub crayons may be the perfect vehicle to encourage kids to write and draw. Kids often find bathtub crayons enjoyable (it’s pretty much the only time writing on “walls” is acceptable) and it’s a great way to work on learning letters, letter sounds, and rhyming, which are all wonderful pre-literacy skills.
- Figurines. There seems to be a figurine out there for everybody these days. Whether your child is a die-hard superhero fan or finds bugs more intriguing, figurines are the perfect toy to let your child’s imagination run wild. They are usually small, too, which makes them easy to pack in the car or play with in the grocery cart while you shop.
- Jigsaw puzzles. Puzzles are an excellent family activity, and they can be used to work on so many wonderful skills like sequencing, teamwork, language concepts (in, out, together, apart, straight, corner, curvy, find, look, search, turnover, etc.), visual scanning, and part-to-whole relationships.
- Cars, Trains, and Trucks—oh my! Many boys are naturally drawn to these types of toys, but girls enjoy them too. There’s just something about those wheels. Cars and trains can easily be turned into pretend play schemes, which help develop a child’s imagination, problem solving, and emotional maturity. Use blue painter’s tape to create roads on the carpet for many hours of fun and easy cleanup!
- Cooperative games. Board games are an excellent way to target attention, waiting for turns, listening, and following directions. Cooperative games can target all these same skills but also add an element of working together to achieve the same goal. Check out the Peaceable Kingdom games! My favorite is Race to the Treasure.
- Yoga cards. Yoga is an outstanding way to get your kids moving. Kids’ schedules are getting busier and there seems to be an ongoing pressure to always be doing more (I like to tell myself that more is not always better!). Yoga is an excellent way to slow down during hectic days and teach your children how to relax and enjoy stillness all while teaching coordination, building strength, and improving their body awareness.
- Velcro food. These types of toys encourage pretend play and creativity while incorporating some fine motor skill elements too! Amp up your play time and pretend you are the lead chef at a restaurant or maybe a cook in a popular food truck. Grab some paper and crayons while you are at it and create menus and signs to incorporate writing/drawing.
- Stacking and nesting cups. What seems like such a simple toy can be utilized to develop so many different skills. With these cups, you can teach your kids many great language concepts, learn how to take turns, target problem solving skills, and develop cause-and-effect skills. This is when a child learns they can influence their environment.
- Building toys. From Legos to wooden blocks, building toys are an excellent way to develop hand strength, hand-eye coordination, visual-spatial skills, and sequencing. They are also great for working on following directions (i.e. “Put the yellow block next to the green one.”).
- Kinetic sand. This stuff is the perfect material for those kids who crave sensory input and even for those kids who may be a little more sensitive to tactile input. This is a fun way to explore a different material while creating beautiful sculptures. Find little items to hide in the sand for an alternative way to play.
- Shaving cream. Squirt some shaving cream on a tray, a window, or on a plate to engage in some sensory play. If the smell is too strong, buy the unscented variety. You can also add paint, glitter, or essential oils to spice it up. Encourage your kids to write letters, shapes, or faces while they develop their sensory systems. Be careful though, if your child has a nut allergy, some of the creams are made with sunflower oil, so read the labels!
- Sensory balls or balls with varying textures. Balls are a fun way to incorporate following directions, making specific requests (“give me the spiky blue ball”), teaching adjectives (spiky, smooth, rough, pokey, round, small, large, medium), and targeting verbs (roll, bounce, squeeze, stop, go, throw, kick). They are also the perfect toy for those kids who need to move and groove!
We hope that you find this toy list helpful and that you and your family have fun playing together!