Cart 0
Cart 0
The Modern Social Connecting App + Lifestyle Brand For Moms Raising Children With Special Needs.
autism-friendly gift ideas for toddlers

Toys and Tools for Learning + Fun

By Erin Leach

Autism is not one-size-fits all and even if a child is on the same side of the spectrum as another, it doesn’t mean that their needs are anything alike. What we do know is that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn better when they are taught skills through play rather than in any other way. They can improve their speech and language, social skills, fine and gross motor skills, and even sensory processing with the right types of toys, which is why we wanted to round up the top autism-friendly gift ideas for toddlers.

Whether you’re a parent, relative, or friend of a toddler with ASD, it can be challenging to know what might be an appropriate toy to give for birthdays (or just because). The good news is that we tapped our team of child development specialists to round up some of their very favorite autism-friendly gift ideas for toddlers ranging from music sets to doll houses and everything in between. We promise, you’ll never be stumped again when it comes to gift-giving for your loved one. 

the best toys for autistic kids

 

Janod Music Set

This bright and cheerful music set features xylo keys, a cymbal, and drum to keep your little one’s attention. Not only can playing music be good for the soul and boost one’s mood, it can also be a great way for your child to communicate with others—or bond over the common interest. 

Hape Gourmet Kitchen

Pretend play can be a challenge for children with autism, which is why a gourmet kitchen with an oven, stovetop, and sink is a great gift. Little ones will want to explore, and you can begin practicing everyday routines—cooking, washing dishes, cutting food—together. It will also facilitate communication with other children during play dates at your house. 

Wooden Doll House

Especially for children who have difficulty expressing themselves, “play” with a doll house can be used to communicate their innermost thoughts and feelings. This two-story house features more than one doll so your tiny one can stage conversations and interactions between characters to practice socializing in real life. 

Little Tikes Trampoline

Who doesn’t like jumping on a trampoline? Your child will get a kick out of bouncing up and down, all the while improving their balance and coordination while holding onto a long handlebar for support. Bonus points that if they happen to take a tumble, it’s not high off the ground.

Double Loop Railway Set

Many parents who have children with autism say that their little one like trains. Perhaps it’s because of the rotating wheels that are fun to watch or it could be because trains run on a schedule (predictability is admired by many individuals with autism). This double railway set has no shortage of fun things to do with its train station, tunnels, and suspension bridges. 

Moluk Bilibo

It can be hard to work on coordination and gross motor skills inside the house. That’s why the Moluk Bilibo shell-shape toy designed by child development experts is so special—kids can sit in it, stand on it, slide in it, spin it, and even stack it (all without having to worry that it will break). 

Cuku Cool Mini Bike

Bike riding can be especially difficult for children with special needs. Introducing them to a cool mini bike with four wheels early will help them with their balance and will make sure they’re not as intimidated when they try to ride the real deal later on. 

Green Toys Car Carrier

For some children with autism, communication and speaking aren’t second nature. You can use a cool set like this to encourage play with tons of honking, sirens, and other car sounds. Have your little one listen to you make the noises first, and then have them follow suit. 

SHOP: Our Top 25 Gift Ideas For A Toddler With Autism:

toys for fine motor skills

How to Get the Right Grasp With These Toys for Fine Motor Skills. 

By Erin Leach

A key part of your child’s future independence is their being able to do things like tie their shoes, zipper their pants, hold a pencil, use scissors, and so on. All of these tasks are related to fine motor skills—which are put quite simply, the coordination of small muscles usually in one’s hands and fingers. And like any muscle, those in your hands and fingers can be taught to work in a way that may not come as naturally to your little learner. 

But practicing these fine motor skills don’t need to be a chore—in fact, it can be all fun and games with the right art tools and playdate-worthy products. Sensory-friendly chalk, ergonomic crayons, balancing blocks, and more are all great opportunities for your child to amp up how comfortable they are gripping, pulling, and even twisting—all things that will help them with academic and self-care tasks moving forward. Remember, even a little practice will go a long way with these top 9 toys for fine motor skills. Keep reading to see why. 

Butterstix

The sensation of chalk in your hands can be uncomfortable when you have sensory issues. That’s just one reason why Jaq Jaq Bird created your favorite bright colorful chalk with easy-to-grip holders that eliminate residue on fingers (they’re also 100 percent dust-free).

Food Safe Drawing Placemat

And if your tiny is also a picky eater, Jaq Jaq has created a chalk-friendly place mat. Children can draw funny faces and incorporate their food to make meal time more fun. For a challenge, have your child practice flipping the chalk from one end to another in their fingers—just one tool that will come in handy for switching from writing to erasing in school.

Balancing Tree Game

In this fun game children are encouraged to stack the colored “branches” and balance the birds on top—whoever does so first “wins.” Although technically geared toward younger children, it will delight kids of all ages and help them focus on the “pincer grip” they’ll need for writing.  

Smart Snacks Number Pops

These cool ice cream “pops” work as a matching game where your tiny one places the right numbered cap onto the stick with the corresponding amount of dots. Not only will they practice counting, it also teaches finger dexterity as your child pops the caps on and off.

Haba Town Magnetic Maze

Kids can hone their gripping skills with this game in which they use a magnetic stylus to “push” magnetic balls into matching color-coded garages. Advanced players can spin a roundabout and move road blocks for more practice with dexterity along the way. 

FIND MORE OF OUR FAVORITE TOYS FOR FINE MOTOR SKILLS HERE:

picky eaters

Simple Solutions for Picky Eaters

By Michelle Guerrere

Breakfast, lunch, or dinner can be a drudgery when you’ve spent time whipping something up for your little one only for them to stare at it with a look of “this isn’t happening” on their face. And it’s not just that you don’t want your child to be a picky eater because it’s inconvenient (although, it can be)—you want to ensure they’re getting the essential nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong. “I’ve learned that the most successful strategies for treating feeding problems are ones that capitalize on a child’s internal motivation to try new things,” speech language pathologist Jenny McGlothlin has told us.

When you spice things up with everything from stable seating with foot support to innovative placemats to even kid-friendly food skewers, everyone will begin to look forward to meal time. Keep scrolling to shop the top solutions for picky eaters guaranteed to make food fun again—for both kids and parents.

Geeklife Rubber Wood Plates

Face plates like this rabbit wooden style can make feedings a bit of a game and help get your child through a fear of new foods (aka food neophobia). By letting them play and interact with unknown food, they’ll be more likely to try it than if you simply put it in front of them and expected them to eat it. 

EZPZ Mini Mat

This placemat and plate hybrid suctions to the table or highchair table to keep messes contained. Your little one can turn their food into mini works of art and it will encourage them to feed themselves. Plus, it sparks a sense of curiosity to try foods they might normally never touch!

Stokke Trip Trapp Chair

Stokke Trip Trapp Chair

CuteZCute Animal Picks

CuteZCute Animal Picks

Little Partners Learning Tower

Little Partners Learning Tower

Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair

It’s worth investing in this piece for its adjustable seat and footplates alone since they allow you to personalize seating based on your child’s needs. Being comfortable is essential during feeding, and foot rests are grounding—plus they help with postural stability if your child has gross motor delays so the focus can be on their food.

CuteZCute Animal Food Picks and Forks

Four-prong and two-prong mini food picks in adorable animal shapes jazz up any meal, which can make your child more adventurous with food. Plus, these skewers are about the size of tiny hair clips, meaning they’re easier for your little one’s hands to maneuver (meaning they’ll get less frustrated and eat more).

Little Partners Learning Tower

A major part of meal prep and exploring new foods is getting up to the counter to help. A stable adjustable kitchen tower lets kids go to work with you at the counter with ease. It is much safer than using a dining room chair or just a step stool, which is especially more tricky to navigate if your child has motor skill delays.

FIND MORE OF OUR FAVORITE PICKY EATING SOLUTIONS HERE: 

A Playroom Essential That Supports A Child's Social, Emotional, and Physical Development.

kids playroom furniture

1. Furniture that is sized appropriately to a child, fosters independence and makes children feel more physically secure.

2. When your child can easily sit and get up from their chair, it empowers them to make decisions and do things for themselves.

3. Kids love a space that they can call their own and also can share with siblings and friends.

4. The chair and table height is grounding for a child and can make meal time more comfortable and fun for them.

5. When your child can practice sitting, playing, working, and eating at a table sized just for them will prepare them for a classroom setting.

top sensory break tools

Everything your child needs in Their sensory break tool kit

By Michelle Guerrere

Have you ever felt completely overwhelmed, felt the room start to spin a bit and experienced a “mini meltdown?” It’s happened to all of us at least once, but sensory overload is a regular part of everyday life for children with sensory disorders, ADD/ADHD, and autism, which is why the top sensory break tools and toys are so important. But, what exactly is sensory overload? “Sensory overload happens when a child experiences too much sensory stimulation and his central nervous system is overwhelmed and unable to process all of the input,” says Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP. This can be caused by any of the senses, including sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movements, and even touch.

Unlike a temper tantrum, a sensory overload is your central nervous system’s response to stress, and it triggers a fight or flight response, says Ford-Lanza. Especially when children are young, it requires an adult’s help to have them feel like they’re in control again. One way to prevent this type of meltdown—or treat one—is by taking sensory breaks or timeouts to use tools and toys that calm the senses. This is everything from sky chairs and swings to playsilks to hopper balls and more. Keep reading to see the types of tools and toys we suggest keeping stocked in your sensory break tool kit at all times. 

Cat Ear Headphones

These cat ear headphones are so cute your little one will want to put them on for a sensory break, plus they’re wireless and ultra comfortable so movement isn’t a problem. Although there’s no shortage of therapeutic listening programs, we’re prescribing some tunes for your sensory tool box. Pick tunes with a beat to get your child jumping, running, clapping, and dancing or put on softer songs for a calming effect. 

Daiso Soft Clay

Clay can help to reduce anxiety as your child molds, stretches, and twists the dough in their hands (not only that, it also helps improve motor skills). This specific set of soft clay doesn’t get hands dirty, making it easier to tolerate for children with sensory issues. 

Djeco Piti Rain Green

The goal is to shake the mini green balls into the holes in this rain stick. It’s great for dexterity and hand-eye coordination, but creates a soothing sound perfect for a sensory break. 

Coolsand Play Box

Coolsand lets tiny ones feel like they’re playing on the beach without ever having to have grains of sand stuck between their fingers. (It’s because the clay is kinetic and sticks to itself and nothing else). As kids use molds to create different shapes, the texture of the sand will calm them down and play will help them exert their extra energy. 

SueSport Sky Chair

An indoor/outdoor swing like this gives kids a place of comfort and refuge to escape to when they need a sensory timeout. Cotton fabric to swaddle up in helps tiny ones feel secure while sustained swinging leads to vestibular input, helping them to stay alert and perform activities. 

Weighted Lap Pad

A weighted lap pad applies pressure to a child’s body, helping them feel snug and secure and keeps them from fidgeting while working on an activity. Fun fact: you can also place it on your kid’s back while they are resting to help calm them down. This version lets you wipe messes off, making cleanup a cinch.

FIND MORE OF THE TOP SENSORY BREAK TOOLS + TOYS HERE: 

Story Time Must-Haves

the best books for kids

Reading to your child is a great way to have one-on-one intimate time together. Piles of research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other reputable sources have shown the benefits of reading to your child and that children learn best by interacting with actual humans (as opposed to screens). And we also know that speaking to little ones, even to pre-verbal children, is the key to building their working vocabulary. Books provide a wonderful focal point for these interactions. More importantly, many children love to listen to a short, thoroughly engaging story. And parents, given good material, can really shine as entertainers. Having a selection of books at home that are really fun to read (and we've found are guaranteed to please) will help foster literacy and a love of reading. Many books come in both board book and picture book versions. Board books are recommended for babies up to three because they are indestructible, while kids older than three can gently turn (not tear) the pages of a hardcover picture book which provides a bigger canvas for illustrations.

Here are 10 books we recommend to get your library started:

Love these hair bows? Get them at  Wunderkin

Love these hair bows? Get them at Wunderkin

BOARD BOOKS

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd. Why? This beloved classic is a beloved classic because of its lilting rhythm; the elusive mouse; the sometimes predictable, sometimes surprising rhyme scheme; and the coziest orange and green room ever. You pick.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Why? The die-cut holes on every page are irresistible to tiny fingers. And Eric Carle’s vibrant collage illustrations are always a crowd pleaser.

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman. Why? There are very few words in this book—the adorable pictures tell the story of a very clever gorilla. You can help pointing out details the first few times you share it with your child—until he or she wants to take over the telling.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. Why? I honestly have no idea, but kids love this book, and can learn their letters while they’re at it. Grownups—you almost can’t help morphing into a jazz musician when you read it.

Moo, Baa, La, La, La! by Sandra Boynton. Why? Reading this book is like singing a catchy song. And the adorably illustrated barnyard animals are having such a good time that you can’t help yourself either.

PICTURE BOOKS

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. Why? For kids who may have a hard time understanding emotions, there is no confusing the hilarious pigeon’s expressions of unbridled desire and frustration—and everyone is in on the joke. All of Mo Willems’ pigeon books are winners.

Press Here by Herve Tullet Why? This thoroughly interactive book is like an iPad. If an iPad required you to actively engage.

When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang. Why? Really expressive visuals illustrate a story about a little girl who has a tantrum, and then figures out how to calm herself down.

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee. Why? The perfect rhyme scheme gives little ones an opportunity to jump in and finish the sentences. Also, what may be a familiar concept—kids who will only eat one kind of food—is treated (and resolved) in a completely entertaining way.

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer. Why? You will never guess the reason George can’t bark—and you will laugh out loud at the characters’ expressions on every page.

The best toys to promote early speech + creating meaningful conversations. 

If there’s one thing you can’t start working on too soon with your child, it’s speaking and language development (even if they can’t talk yet, they’ll learn just by hearing you speak). “All children develop at different rates, but parents can promote speech and language development from birth, as it serves as a foundation for a child’s communicative abilities throughout life,” Lauren Travis MC, CCC-SLP, has told us. And toys for language development in kids can help us introduce—and practice—speech with our little ones, no matter their age. 

Fun fact: even babies can hear speech and learn to distinguish it from other noises. Toddlers often begin to string their own sentences along to relate to those around them. And once it’s time to go to school, communication and speaking is crucial to a child’s everyday life. In order to prepare your little one for each of these steps—no matter when they reach them—toys for language development in kids inspire children. Through play, they learn to show, share, role play, and even ask for help… all things that will help them for the rest of their lives. 

toys for language development

Hape Kids Parking Garage

A three-floor play center with a parking garage, helicopter pad, and fuel station lets your child pretend for hours (and it sparks tons of conversation). Shari Goldstein, a speech pathologist, suggests teaching locatives with toys for language development in kids. You can use a play helicopter and helicopter pad to introduce words like “in,” “up,” “under,” “on,” and “off.” 

pretend cake set

Melissa and Doug Make A Cake Set

train set for kids

Hape Kids Wooden Railway

Speaking of suggesting your child turn their play kitchen into a bake shop, why not encourage it by giving them a make-a-cake set? Your little baker will be able to answer the phone to “take orders,” work through a recipe for pound cake with you, and even hand crank the mixer in this wooden Melissa & Doug set. And we must mention that the cranking and stirring will improve motor skills at the same time. 

A “working on the railroad” set with an industrial coal mining vibe lets your little one work on their problem-solving skills, which are essential to conversation. You can find solutions to various conundrums with your child. Questions to ask and scenarios include: what happens when the cargo doesn’t show up on time, what do you do when the train breaks down, and how long will it be until the train can cross the bridge? Let them answer and play through the scenario. 

Use a kid-sized salad set with a play kitchen (or alone) to teach your child words related to food. They’ll learn skills like how to make a salad by practicing with plastic veggies, toppings, and even fake salad dressing and spices. It’s never too early to have a conversation about healthy food choices and why fruit and veggies are an important part of every meal. Plus, familiarizing a little one with sensory issues with healthy food will increase the chances they’ll try it at their next meal. 


Travis says that a farm set will never go out of style because it can grow with your child (usually children six months and up are able to interact with this type of toy). This kid-sized set features a little red barn, a tractor, a fence, and various animals like a rooster, pigs, and sheep. There are few children who don’t like animals, so typically they’ll learn a lot by interacting with them—as well as imitating and learning the noises they make like oinking and cock-a-doodle-dooing. 

farm toy set

Green Toys Farm Play Set

categorization skills for kids

Teamson Kids Little Chef Birmingham Modern Play Kitchen

This modern kitchen set boasts large knobs so your child can practice turning the burners and oven on by themselves. You can use play utensils, pots and pans, and food to teach your tiny one how to categorize things. Start by explaining the difference between food and non-food items, and then move on to have them put the cutlery in a basket, dishes in a cupboard, and so on and so forth. Categorization is crucial to communication since children are able to use it to expand their vocabularies as they progress. 

imaginary play for kids

Plan Toys Tea Set

pretend play salad set

Hape Award Winning Garden Salad Wood Play Kitchen Play Set

To start out small, why not use a wooden set like this to throw a tea party with your little one? They’ll get excited about dressing up and pretending it’s a fancy occasion! You can also channel this excitement by using it as a time to teach manners like “please,” and “thank you.” By the way, older children can join the party, too—they’ll love the cute little tea bags that go in each cup. What better way to get the wheels of socialization turning? 

Shop more of the best toys for language development here

The Best Blocks For Sensory + Imaginative Play. Children can take their love of building to the next level.

Guidecraft Sensory Stacking Blocks

Guidecraft Sensory Stacking Blocks

These Sensory Stacking Blocks set encourages tactile and sensory exploration. The 12 chunky rubberwood building blocks come in a variety of shapes with various inset textures invite your child to build houses and buildings and by connecting the blocks with simple joints.

the best building blocks

Guidecraft Sorting Vehicles

Beautiful, colorful, wooden Sorting Vehicles are the perfect way to teach color and shape-matching while stimulating fine motor and sensory skills. These vehicle-shaped blocks have inset sensory blocks, displaying sand, water and beads through framed acrylic windows. The colorful, wooden vehicles feature a nylon grip to create friction, keeping the blocks steady during play and building muscles in little hands. 

sensory play ideas

Guidecraft Rainbow Sand Blocks

Your child can combine these blocks filled with colorful sand to form new colors and sounds, or stack the blocks in a different order each time to form new and exciting shapes.

eco friendly building blocks

Guidecraft Mirror Blocks 

These mirror blocks feature hardwood frames with soft, rounded corners and Mylar mirrored double faced interiors which can be used to reflect light, the room and your child in multiple dimensions.

The Ultimate Tool to Encourage Vestibular Activities Indoors

By Michelle Guerrere

There’s a reason your parents made you run around outside when you were a kid—or even suggested we take a few laps around our house in my family’s case. It’s because movement is good for little ones (and let’s be honest, it tires them out, too which makes bedtime that much easier). It’s a scientific fact that kids’ bodies and brains are better able to develop while they’re in motion. That’s why when it comes to tiny sensory seekers, experts encourage the use of indoor sensory swings for kids. 

Whether it’s because of the weather or time constraints, sometimes going outside just isn’t an option to get your child’s energy out—but it’s still important that they develop their vestibular sense. “The vestibular sense gives a child information about where their body is in space, if they’re moving or still, how quickly they’re moving, and in what direction,” says Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP. As your child develops, this vestibular ability will help them with coordination, muscle tone, balance, and bilateral coordination. So, now that you know how important sensory swings for kids can be, it’s time to see some of our very favorites you should consider installing in your humble abode.  

 

 

La Siesta This organic cotton hammock is so comfortable that some have said they actually cuddle up and take a nap in it. We like that there is a safety swivel that makes sure the swing doesn’t over-rotate on your little one. Oh, and did we mention that it’s machine washable? (This should be a parent prereq). 

Happy Pie Swing This sweet swing features adorable colored balls reminiscent of those wooden games at the pediatrician’s office. The product is ideal for little ones six months to three years—there are bars that hold them in while they swing and work on their sense of balance.

Lycra Snuggle Swing Finally: a sensory swing for kids that moves along with them. It’s crafted from four-way stretch fabric which means your little one can choose to sit or lay down while swinging. Plus, the swaddling effect makes them feel comfortable and protected.

Joki Planet Koala Your child won’t want to swing if they can’t get cozy. The good news is that this organic cotton kids nest has a padded cushion for extra support and comfort. Plus, the soft gentle swinging this type of hanging nest allows will help your tiny one learn balance. 

Spinner Swing

Kids won’t want to get off of this cool spinner swing that resembles a mini trampoline you can plop down in the middle of. Its construction allows you to bounce, twist, and even spin (just remember that there is a thing as too much spinning). 

Trapeze Wooden Bar Sensory swings don’t just have to be the seated version. This circus-inspired trapeze wooden bar helps little ones build core strength while learning to balance. Adventure seekers can even try hanging upside down or doing a flip (but we strongly suggest putting a padded mat underneath as well as spotting them). 

Round Disc Plate Swing Seat Totally cramped for space? Now there is no excuse to not install a swing with this compact round disc plate style. Worth noting: the option to adjust the height is great, especially if your child feels more secure being closer to the ground. 

Wooden Horse Swing Set An enclosed bucket swing is a good option for little ones who need a little more support while swinging (plus, gripped handles help them feel grounded). A big perk is that its charming pony shape makes your child feel like they’re riding a horse—and will get them comfortable with swinging in the first place.

Find more sensory swings for kids here:

toys for social skills

These Are The Best Tools For Teaching Feelings, Teamwork + Communication.

By Michelle Guerrere

For many of us, it’s apparent when we’re happy, excited, upset, or even hangry and we know how to communicate those feelings to those around us. Little ones can have a hard time expressing their feelings since they’re not even sure what they all are yet. This can affect how they interact with others—which is where the best toys for social skills that teach feelings, collaboration, and communication come in. It’s worth mentioning that if your child has a sensory processing delay, socializing can be even tougher for them since they can have sensory overload… something as small as the sound of a toy dropping on the floor can turn their playdate from fun to their (and your) worst nightmare in seconds. 

“Some children have problems with impulse control and self-regulation; some have a problem with processing information,” says Lawrence Balter, Ph.D., a child psychologist and parenting expert. “These issues can lead to [kids] having awkward interactions with peers.” Although you can’t ensure your child will never have an uncomfortable experience in a social setting, you can prepare them with the top toys for social skills. By introducing concepts like feelings, teamwork, communication, and moods, you will help them realize why they feel the way they do and teach them how to express themselves to others. It will take a lot of the guesswork out of your child’s social interactions, leaving them more comfortable to talk and play with those around them. 

 

Petit Collage, Feelings Book

What better way to learn your feelings than with a cute illustrated book of animals looking “sad,” “shy,” “worried” and so forth? Plus, the characters are kid-sized, meaning your little one can easily lift the book to their face to show how they’re feeling. 

Little Cooperation Game

So much of socializing is learning how to work together with others. This adorable game requires little ones to work alongside each other to help four animals get back to their igloo—it even requires crossing an icy bridge. Instead of focusing on competition, this game will have kids cooperating and cheering each other on.

Social Emotion Box

A toolbox of emotional and social toys are a playroom must for learning feelings and manners. Things like feelings flash cards, monster bean bags, and emotions putty are tailored to children with autism, sensory processing disorder, and development delays to make them feel more at home in social settings. 

The Color Monster

Did you know that when children interact with others is how they learn best? Along with the help of vibrant colors and pop-up pages, this book lets kids explore feelings of sadness, anger, happiness, calmness, and love. A fun way for you to help your child practice + prepare for playdates.

FIND MORE OF OUR FAVORITE TOYS FOR SOCIAL SKILLS HERE:

Karri Bowen-Poole And Chris Simpson Are The Design Team Behind Smart Playrooms, An Interior Design Studio Led By Two Teachers. They Reveal The 4 Things You Need In Your Child's Play And Learning Space For Their Development.

1. Art Studio or Art Area. Art helps children in many child development domains: motor skills (painting, scribbling, writing), language development (descriptions, labeling, storytelling), decision making (in the course of creating, kids have to make decisions about what to use, how to draw, what to draw/write), visual learning (drawing, sculpting) and sensory (touching, shaping clay, painting). We recommend an art area in all homes.

2. Open-Ended Toys: Open-ended toys and materials can be used in many different ways, are not age specific and don’t play by themselves;  they don’t light up or make sounds. With open-ended toys, there is not a “right or wrong” way to use the toy – the child only needs their imagination. Children will continue to play with open-ended toys because they grow with a child’s imagination. 

3. Designated Areas for Play: We recommend a playroom be designed around the activities that are going to take place in the room. Then separate these areas into nooks, or corners of your playroom to create “centers” or learning areas, just like in school. In each learning area, make sure all materials needed to explore and create are at their fingertips. Some examples: a building area, art area, physical play area and pretend play area.

4. Display: We always recommend a place for displaying children’s work and accomplishments. This sends your child the message that you value their hard work and creativity. The display area should be easily accessible to the children so they can decide what to put up. Displaying your child's work  not only helps them to feel more confident, but it also makes them intuitively want to do more creating and art.

To learn more about the design team behind Smart Playrooms and their services visit them here.

IMG_2112.JPG

Tricycles, Bicycles, and Scooters! Find The Perfect One For Your Child.

Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

When kids are younger or just learning to manage the speed that comes with wheeled toys, tricycles are best to work on basic skills like safety, steering, and endurance. From Big Wheels-style to upright Radio Flyer trikes, there are tricycles that stay low to the ground for more reassurance or sit more upright to challenge your child’s balance and core strength. Choose a tricycle that matches their size, confidence, and skills because at this stage of riding you want to build on positive experiences. 

Beyond the traditional bicycle with training wheels, there are balance bikes that some feel is a better transition from tricycle to bicycle. No matter what your preference, choose a bicycle that is on the smaller side if your child struggles with balance or core strength. They will find it easier to steer, control, and feel reassured if their feet are closer to reaching the ground. If your child is not yet ready to graduate from training wheels, consider a tag-along bicycle that attaches to the back of an adult bicycle. This will allow your little one to benefit from the adult doing much of the legwork and balancing while they enjoy a longer bike ride, get used to weight shifting with turns, and gain confidence without training wheels. 

As your child builds their endurance with bicycle riding, try introducing a scooter. There are scooter options that allow your child more stability with three wheels and a wider base of support than your typical two-wheeled razor scooter. Scooters are a great way to work on improving coordination, as one side of their body is doing something different than the other! When your child gets good enough at controlling the scooter, pushing off one leg, and working the rear braking system, you can transition them to a two-wheeled scooter with more safety confidence. 

For older kids who need more stability, adapted bicycles or adult size tricycles are going to be what keeps them moving! Some tricycles offer more supported seating as well as the wider base of support that the three wheels allow for. 

No matter what you choose to get your kids wheeling around, know that these gross motor toys all provide opportunities for movement and challenge your child’s balance and coordination skills in a fun way! (But don't forget a helmet!)

Screen Shot 2018-03-29 at 6.08.58 AM.png

How Do You Accomplish Movement When The Expectation For Kids To Stay Seated? The Answer Is “Active Seating”.

By Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

 

Did you know that when your body is moving, your brain is more engaged in learning? However, our children are often required to spend much of their day trying to sit still in their classrooms, which isn't allowing them to develop their sensory systems.

Kids need ample time to run, jump, climb, crash, and get dirty! The active play recommendations for toddlers & preschoolers are 5-8 hours/day and school-age children need at least 4-5 hours/day of movement experiences. Knowing those guidelines, consider how much of your child’s school day is spent sitting at their desk, at the dinner table, in the car between activities, and watching TV. Chances are probable that your child isn’t getting the recommended active play experiences that their sensory and motor systems need to develop. It’s no wonder that kids are wiggly and fidgety when we ask them to sit and learn!

So how do you accomplish movement when the expectation is to stay seated? The answer is in “active seating” options that allow for subtle movements and adjustments while sitting. They’re not going to replace active play experiences, but sensory seats promote body engagement and increased focusing ability by giving your child the sensory input they need!

We love that ErgoErgo revolutionary seating concept combines the benefits of active sitting with a bold contemporary design. The Kids Ergo allows the body to rock gently in any direction to build strength and flexibility. Your child can use their ErgoErgo to challenge their core during TV time, story time, or at the kids-craft table.

The next time you’re tempted to remind your child to “sit still,” get them up and moving OR add a little wiggle or wobble to your child’s seat to offer that sensory input their bodies need to learn and engage!

IMG_9436.jpg

Make The Most Of Your Baby's Tummy Time!

By Carissa Tozzi

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that tummy time should begin the day your baby comes home from the hospital, and LOVEVERY designed this gym with tummy time and all the skill-building activities for your baby's first year of development in mind. The Gym has five activity zones that are designed purposefully to enhance your child's fine/gross/visual motor, sensory, language skills.

During the first 12 weeks of your baby's life, you can start building skills for reading. Having your child watching a moving object helps fine-tune visual tracking, a skill that is important for reading, writing, and hand-eye coordination. When your baby is alert, you can hold one of Lovevery's Black + White Cards about 12 inches from your baby's eyes and slowly move the image from left to right to help them practice following a moving object.

The minute a baby is able to hold objects they will want to put them in their mouth—and that's a good thing! Your baby’s oral sensations are more developed right now than those in any other part of his body. Studies show mouthing helps with speech development and also prepares your baby to open to different textures of food. Lovevery's mouthable accessories are made of 100% organic cotton, and every piece of wood that comes with The Play Gym is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

When your baby is sitting up on their own, they'll be able to focus with both eyes and look at features in images and faces. This is a great time to show your baby the Mirror Cards, Object Cards, and Body Part Cards, that are included with The Play Gym, so you can begin a conversation with your little one about the details they see.  

There are also Exploring Colors Cards for when they're seeing colors, How Things Feel Cards with all these cute, textured ribbons for sensory fun, and A Making Sounds Zone when they are a little more dextrous and can explore cause and effect by pushing the squeakers and playing with the crinkle, and A Hiding and Finding Zone with pockets and a detachable ring so that your baby can reach and pull the ring or other objects out by themselves, which is a perfect early lesson in what child development experts call "object permanence".

What is also very special and incredibly helpful for new moms is that the Lovevery Play Gym comes with a Play Guide! There is a full year of ideas for how to play with your baby, backed by all the research you don’t have time to read!

As you know, all babies develop differently and Lovevery's play gym is useful for hitting so many important milestones whenever your baby is ready. But if you notice that your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves talk to your child’s doctor and share your concerns.

lovevery.jpg

I love finding simple and fun ways for all children to enhance their speech and language development when playing with a caregiver.

By Shari Goldstein, Speech Pathologist

When I was in school I had a professor who told us she could serve her entire speech therapy practice using only a Mr. Potato Head. Those words followed me through graduate school and my early years of practice when my bag was overflowing with toys. Over time, I discovered my magical toys, the ones that could help children of different abilities achieve a variety goals. All of my favorites are “batteries not needed” toys. They don’t have any type of electronic noises or voices. My goal is for my clients to do all the talking!

1. BUBBLES: A jar of bubbles can help me achieve a variety of goals. Words such as me, mine, my, pop, big, bubble, open, and more can all be incorporated into bubble playing. I can work on establishing eye contact as the child watches me blow the bubble. A variety of semantic relations can be used including commenting ( big bubble!), and requesting (More). Bubbles can also be used to teach the concepts of wet vs. dry. Bubble blowing is also a perfect oral motor activity when working on lip rounding. Turn taking can be a goal when using bubbles.

2. BALLOON ROCKET: Locatives including on, off, in, under, up, down can all be taught using the rocket. Children of all ages are so excited when we use this. The balloons are different colors and while I don’t “teach” colors in a drill type fashion I will label the colors. I can work on “same and different” using the balloons. “Let's pick a different color for the next launch”,  "which balloon is the same?” For some children placing the balloon onto the rocket can be difficult thus setting up a perfect opportunity for the child to request help either verbally using words or non-verbally by handing the item to an adult. The use and understanding of Wh questions can be a focus using this toy. “Where should I launch it”, “where did the balloon go” This is a good activity to encourage joint attention. Again this is another good toy for taking turns.

3.ECHO MICROPHONE: This toy is great for back and forth reciprocal play. I can work on sound imitation with my emerging language, non-verbal and/or apraxic children. When a child makes a noise he/she can hear it echo. Children are excited to hear their voice. Many of my clients have said their first word or sang their first song into an inexpensive party store echo mike. One boy is now a musical prodigy!

4.WOODEN BLOCKS: Many spectacular creations have been built in my office using basic colored wooden blocks. Descriptive words including big, little, and colors can be taught. Superlatives such as longest and shortest can be incorporated into the play scheme. Prepositions on, in , under are a part of block building. Blocks are wonderful for a child’s imagination. Boats, rockets, planes houses and even houseboats have been built. Turn taking is always a goal when building with others. 

 

Shari Goldstein received her masters from Boston University. She has been practicing for over 30 years and has supervised graduates completing their Clinical fellowship year. Presently, she has a private practice in Westport, CT and she is a consultant for Connecticut's birth to three program. She has done extensive work with children on the autism spectrum, children with apraxia, oral motor issues as well as articulation concerns.  

Finally, A Fun Way To Teach Your Kids Important Life Lessons.

By Gena Mann

Many children have obsessions that drive what they want to wear, watch, read, play, and do. All day, every day. This is sometimes amusing, other times tedious. But the good news is that you can seize upon a child’s passion for teaching them to read, trying a new type of food, playing an imagination game, or engaging in many other activities that might otherwise be a struggle.

Children who obsess over dinosaurs, music, Disney movies, or trains, for example, can be soothed or entertained for hours if you share the right book, toy, movie, or outing with them. For little superhero fans, you must check out Downtown Bookworks’ line of DC Super Heroes books. Your child's favorite characters can make bedtime, mealtime, and even social outings go more smoothly.

Even Super Heroes Sleep is like Goodnight Moon for super heroes. Once your little super hero fanatic realizes that even The Flash needs to slow down sometimes, so will he.

My First Book of Super-Villains cleverly contrasts villains’ bad behavior with super heroes’ exemplary behavior. The Penguin scares people. Batgirl protects people. Who do you want to be like?

Super Heroes Have Friends Too shows little ones how to be a good friend. Batman and Robin share their cool gadgets. You too should share! The villains and super hero sidekicks featured in both books open the door to conversations about social skills, and behaviors within your child’s own circle of friends and playmates. 

For the general introduction to the world of super heroes and their awesome superpowers, check out My First Book of Girl Power, My First Book of Superpowers, or The Big Book of Girl Power and The Big Book of Superpowers (for the under-3 and over-3 sets respectively). Talking about superpowers is a terrific way to spark imaginative play and creative thinking. What would you do if you could fly? read minds? see through walls? talk to animals? My daughters could talk about princesses all day long. Discussing strength, honesty, smarts and other characteristics of super heroines is a really nice break! And for children with anxiety issues, superpowers present an opportunity to talk about their fears and can give you a playful way to help them to cope. My younger son has tremendous separation anxiety but wearing a special cape that he helped design makes him feel really brave when he’s nervous about me going somewhere. 

The DC Super Hero Cookbook, Deluxe Edition, offers dozens of super simple recipes guaranteed to get picky eaters to branch out. The kit comes with three logo-shaped cookie cutters. Cheese, deli meat, sandwiches—pretty much everything tastes better when it is shaped like a lightning bolt! And the book’s clever serving suggestions — relying on stencils and character cut-outs (both in the book), food coloring, and action figures will make mealtime a breeze. Cooking with kids is also a great opportunity to practice skills such as following sequential directions: first, we preheat the oven, next we mix the batter, then we roll out the dough...

After all of that reading, get your child to create a super hero in his or her image. Encourage your child to choose a superpower, and then design a symbol for that power, and pick an awesome super hero name. Have fun! 

 

il_570xN.1292759669_bnqh.jpg

These Are The Best Skill-Building Crayons To Help Your Child Get That Just-Right Grasp!

By Alescia Ford-Lanza

Allowing your child to explore through art helps them develop more than just creativity. Whether they are drawing, finger painting, coloring, or crafting, kids are developing social skills, motor skills, problem solving, mental processes, and emotional expression. In fact, researchers have been studying the role that creativity plays in overall intelligence and analytical skills! Makes you want to run out to get some new crafting inspiration, doesn't it?

I came across Kid Made Modern's Giant Crazy Crayon in a boutique toy shop this summer and was immediately inspired to check out what other art products they offered. I wasn't disappointed! In fact, they sent us some of their amazingly inspiring and inclusive products to share with you all.  What I love about this company is that, just like the handwritten note that accompanied our samples said, they believe that "art is for everyone!" We share that belief and are excited to show you how some of our fave Kid Made Modern products can work for kids of all abilities!

crayons for fine motor development

Rock Crayons

Small hands need small crayons. These rock crayons look like the flat skipping stones we used to throw across the lake as kids! They lack the overpowering wax-based crayon smell, so they're perfect for your sensory sensitive child who is still working on refining his/her fine motor skills too. The bright, fun colors allow your child to do all that they would with the typical Crayolas but they encourage a mature tripod grasp in a new way. Explore wide strokes using the flat side, or turn them to explore a whole new grasp. I love how they blend and change as you color and draw because of the natural visual details that draw kids' attention!

crayons for fine motor delays

Gem Jackpot

Gem Jackpot: For the little learners who are ready for exploring lines, shading, and shapes, this assortment of Gem-shaped crayons builds on the Rock Crayon concept but challenges kids to move their fingers in different ways to get a different kind of line. I love that each gem is a little different, which adds a fine motor challenge for developing grasp patterns. For users who need to use adaptive grasps like whole hand, pronated, or fisted grasps because of motor disabilities, both the rock and gem crayons are large enough to allow for extra fingers or whole hands to stabilize them.

crayons for developmental delays in children

Confetti Crayons

Confetti Crayons: One of the fine motor skills your child will use often in the course of his/her academic career is called"complex rotation" - think of it as the flip you do to turn your pencil from writing to erasing...and back to writing! It's a skill we take for granted when we're in the middle of a lengthy writing assignment but how do you teach those skills to a child? These Confetti Crayons are two-tipped crayons that encourage children to "flip" between ends by rotating the crayon back and forth. They're about the size of a small marker, so definitely a good choice for elementary aged kids who have already established a mature crayon grasp. Each crayon is wrapped in a color-shaded paper that matches the overall color of the crayon itself. These color blocks offer a great visual for finger placement, finger walks, and positioning prompts to get that just-right grasp!

crayons for kids with autism

Crayon Gem

Crayon Gem: This may be one of my favorite crayon designs by Kid Made Modern because it allows kids with significantly adaptive grasps to participate in coloring. If your child has physical disabilities and needs to use a gross grasp, this crayon gem is large enough that they can hold on with a total hand grasp. Because there are stacked colors, it is possible to get "feedback" for every purposeful coloring stroke in a bright, colorful way so your child can be successful.

"Go Make Stuff" is Kid Made Modern's slogan...so we did! Now it's your turn.

This feature also appears on Alescia's website: Adapt & Learn. Visit  Adapt & Learn for more amazing, sensory-informed, family-friendly topics and products! 

Little Sapling Toys create simple, beautiful + timeless toys for babies and toddlers that will be enjoyed throughout their childhood years.

We love that these toys are ecologically sustainable and socially responsible as possible and that all their toys are designed to encourage creativity, learning, and skill building. And the best part is that Little Sapling Toys support impoverished communities by planting a tree with every toy sold through an amazing program, Trees for the Future!  

We love that these toys are ecologically sustainable and socially responsible as possible and that all their toys are designed to encourage creativity, learning, and skill building. And the best part is that Little Sapling Toys support impoverished communities by planting a tree with every toy sold through an amazing program, Trees for the Future!  

wooden rocking horse for toddlers

Wooden Rocking Horse 

A Rocking Horse is a perfect toy for gross motor development while the rocking movement can provide a soothing sensory experience for little ones. Kids will love the design and you will love that it is a safe and sturdy riding toy. 

eco friendly cars and trucks for boys

Car and Truck with Hills Toy

We love trucks and cars for imaginative, pretend and speech and language play. This truck comes in the perfect size for little hands and when they are older, they can paint the cars and mountains for a fine motor skill building activity. 

best presents for first birthday

Circle Sapling Stacker Toy

This organic stacking wooden toy promotes imagination while building fine motor skills for infants and toddlers. The pieces can be arranged in any way on the column which allows children to develop creativity and pattern recognition. 

toys to build fine motor skills

Geometric Lacing Toy

This wooden Lacing Toy helps children develop fine motor skills and shape recognition. This beautiful six-piece set includes a circle, triangle, square, heart, plus sign and star. 

eco friendly gift ideas for kids

Mailbox Toy

This wooden mailbox and letter toy can grow with your child. At first they can practice putting the letters into the box and when they are older they can pretend to write letters and send them off to their friends and family.

modern wood dollhouse for kids

Wood Dollhouse

Dollhouse play is an amazing skill building activity. We love the simple design of this house and the opportunity it allows for a child to decorate and paint it just the way they want.

geometric-lacing-toy-6-piece-wood-toys_1024x1024.jpg

These Are My Favorite Tools + Toys To Have At Home.

By Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP 

A sensory tool box is a collection of sensory strategies that will be your go-to source for sensory activities at home  to help your child with sensory regulation.The contents of the sensory tool box will vary depending on your child’s needs, but it’s important that whatever you choose targets some of the major sensory systems: auditory (sound/hearing), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), tactile (touch), vestibular (movement), proprioception (input from muscles and joints), and interoception. Multi-purpose sensory tools will allow for more flexibility of the activities you can do while still containing them all in one “box!” 

Spinning provides rotational vestibular input that a lot of kids need to reorganize! It’s usually best to keep the rhythm and speed of the spinning predictable, and remember to change directions (good rule of thumb is 10 revolutions in each direction). There are many options that are perfect for your sensory box, but it honestly depends on what works best in your home. If you’re lucky enough to have a free doorway or ceiling bolt to hang a swing, that’s ideal. Check out Harkla's indoor hanging pod swing But if have to rely on smaller options for your sensory tool kit, look into a sit-n-spin, dizzy disc, or a Bilibo.

Scooter Board - A four-wheeled scooter board can be used in a multitude of ways. By including this tool in your sensory break box, you are allowing for proprioceptive and vestibular sensory input opportunities while building core strength and challenging balance skills. For some great scooter board activities, check out this great Therapy Fun Zone list!

Body Sock - A body sock is a lycra pillowcase that serves a few sensory purposes when your child crawls inside. When your child is overstimulated, the body sock can provide a sensory deprivation or quiet personal space to help him calm down. Because the lycra fabric is super stretchy, kids can push and pull the fabric with resistance in any direction, which  provides added proprioceptive input to their muscles and joints! You can use a body sock in more active ways as well - check out this link for more fun ideas.

Vibration -  Deep vibration provides deep touch proprioceptive input to the entire body. The heavier or larger the massager, the more the sensory input! This is a great way for a child to self-administer deep touch input if they are at the age where they like to be in control! Use the vibration massager on a pillow or crash pad for some secondary input when your child is underneath.

Exercise Ball - One of the versatile favorites (but requires adult supervision) is an exercise ball. Bounce them on it and sing a song, roll them over it on their bellies to put together a puzzle, roll upside-down to pick up blocks, squish them underneath to make a kid sandwich, or pushing it through a tunnel! If you have a hippity hop, kids can jump themselves too! The possibilities for proprioceptive and vestibular activities are endless. 

Weighted Object -  For times when your child needs extra proprioceptive input to calm down, have a weighted blanket or lap pad in your tool box. Check out the weighted blankets on Harkla.         

Fidget- Tactile fidgets have been all the craze lately but if you have attention or sensory issues, they aren’t just a passing fad. Fidgets keep the hands occupied in repetitive motor movements that can involve spinning, squeezing, pushing, pulling, clicking (you get the point!). The repetition of these small movements has a calming effect so they’re great to add  to your sensory box for seated meal times, on-the-go trips, or anxiety producing outings like the dentist/haircut/doctor.

Oral input - Many sensory-based occupational therapists can attest to the importance of oral sensory input. There are many professional courses and books dedicated to the integration of the mouth and the suck, swallow, breathe sequence with children who have sensory processing dysfunction. Chewing, sucking, and blowing are all motor movements that, especially when used safely in conjunction with other sensory activities, can play a key role in regulation. Consider adding chewy toys, whistles, jewelry, thick straws, crunchy or chewy foods, and/or bubbles to your sensory box. For some great ideas and more information on oral sensory input, check out this link.

Music - While there are therapeutic listening programs out there that serve their own purposes, we’re talking about music of another kind for your sensory tool box. Sometimes just hearing some tunes with a good beat are enough to get you up and moving! Jump, clap, run, twirl, or bounce to the beat of a song that makes your child happy. Use the duration of an entire song as a way to keep track of how often you are engaging in activity: jump for a whole song - you’ll be working on sustained endurance and sensory input! For a calming effect, try headphones with predictable, softer music. If you don’t have an iPod or CD player handy, you can always sing your way through!

Visuals - The ultimate goal of a sensory tool box is to empower kids to develop a repertoire of activities that they can do independently in order to self-regulate. Be sure to include visuals of your child’s favorite yoga poses, core exercises, or sensory activity ideas to take some of the guesswork out of what to do!

Now that you’ve got your sensory tool box assembled and ready to go, consult your child’s occupational therapist for a sensory diet schedule so you can be proactive in meeting his sensory needs. The more consistently you include these sensory tools in your home environment, the more likely it is that you will get ahead of any sensory meltdowns and your child will become increasingly independent in seeking out what he needs in the moment!

Rachel Photos .jpg