Smart Stocking

Occupational Therapists Help You Choose the Perfect Toy This Holiday Season

Red Christmas stockingsNot sure how to select appropriate toys for the children in your life? This holiday season, the American Occupational Therapy Association wants to help.

“Occupational therapy practitioners recognize play as an occupation [activity] because it is purposeful and meaningful to a child’s development. Play can involve cognitive demands like problem solving, social demands like sharing, and motor and coordination skills like manipulating or activating a toy,” said Sandra Schefkind, MS, OTR/L, pediatric coordinator at the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Follow these tips to purchase toys that make the most of playtime by fostering social, physical and cognitive development and fun.

Is the toy safe and age appropriate? If you choose a toy too young for the child, you have a recipe for boredom. On the other end of the spectrum, a toy too old for the child might lead to frustration. Be mindful of the child’s development in terms of strengths, interests and abilities.

Can the toy be played with in more than one way? Unlimited possibilities can help a child tap into his or her creativity. Blocks are a good choice because they can be stacked, crashed into with other toys and even substituted for items such as food in pretend kitchens.

Does the toy appeal to several senses? Exciting colors, sounds, lights and textures—if it looks and sounds a little like the bright lights of Vegas you might be on to something. Toys that encourage children to push buttons, move parts, open doors or sort shapes will extend play time.

Can the toy be used in more than one place or position? Toys should be versatile, meaning they should be easy to carry and use while sitting, standing or lying down. Crayons, markers, sidewalk chalk, a baby gym and plastic rings are a few examples.

Does the toy involve the use of both hands? Encourage activity and movement with toys that have moving parts, buttons and gears such as construction toys, craft kits, puzzles, balls, riding toys and toss-and-catch sets. Select toys that promote motor skill development at different ages.

Does the toy encourage thinking or solving problems? Older children can benefit from board games and science kits that allow them to use thinking skills in a new way. Babies and toddlers can develop these skills with shape sorters, puzzles or a Jack-in-the box.

Does the toy encourage communication and interaction? Dress-up clothes, costumes, playhouses, kitchen sets and tools can teach cooperation and negotiation and foster imagination.

Is the toy worth the cost? Weight the toy’s appeal vs its durability. Can you substitute the toy you are considering with something that you already have at home?

Download a handy toy shopping checklist here.