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Gifts for kids that keep on giving

If there's one thing you should know about getting gifts for kids, it's this: Less is more.

Too many toys can be overwhelming for kids, causing them to move quickly from one toy to the next. That limits their opportunity for experimentation and creative play. 

Toys with too many lights, buttons and noises also may not make the best gifts. Kids can only interact with toys like this in a few ways. They may enjoy repeatedly pushing the buttons (for a while), but they miss out on opportunities to experiment and engage with others. 

When gift-buying for kids, your best bet is to go back to the basics. Many basic toys do much more than keep kids entertained—they help kids develop the skills they need for future learning and growth. Here are our recommendations for gifts and toys that help kids learn, engage, interact, imagine and relax.  

Busy hands, busy brain

  • Shape-sorting toys. Great for helping babies recognize shapes and learn to coordinate what they see with the movements of their hands and fingers. 10 months+.
  • Blocks or stacking toys. Promotes hand-eye coordination by stacking blocks. See if your child can match a design you create with your blocks. Encourage imagination skills by making blocks into something else—a car, a boat, a robot or a castle. 18 months+.
  • Construction toys. These can be magnetic, interlocking or balancing toys. Follow the instructions to work on visual perceptual and visual motor skills. Encourage your child to create something new and use his or her imagination—this helps to develop planning and organizational skills. 3 years+.
  • Water toys. Activities like pouring water from one container to another promote bilateral coordination, or using both sides of the body at the same time. Scooping water into a cup or bucket builds eye-hand coordination skills. This is also a fun way for kids to use their senses in play. 2 years+.
  • Arts and crafts. Make jewelry or designs with beads. Create designs with Perler® beads. Follow directions to make friendship bracelets with embroidery thread. Make something functional with a loom toy. 4 years+.
  • Activity books. Whether color by number, color by sticker, connect the dots or mazes—all promote fine-motor coordination and the precision necessary for handwriting. 6 years+.

Speech and language: it's all about interaction

  • Books. Books foster vocabulary, language comprehension, imagination and verbal expression. Even young kids get a lot out of books because of the opportunity to interact with the story and with the person reading the story. All ages.
  • Play kitchen and play food, farm or zoo set, doll house, train and train tracks. These are time-tested favorites for a reason. Kids can role play, share interactions with others and try out different scenarios—all essential for building communication skills. All ages can benefit, with attention to play materials sized appropriately for the child's age.

Soothe a sensitive child

  • Forts. Create a fort with tents, construction toys or the old-fashioned way with sheets or blankets. Forts provide a safe space for calming down and relaxing. Keep other calming strategies inside the fort like bubbles, fidgets, pillows and a white noise machine. 2 years+.
  • Seamless clothing. For some kids who are sensitive to how things feel on their skin, getting dressed can be one of the hardest parts of the day. Seamless socks, pants or shirts can help make clothing more comfortable. Remove any tags that may be a source of irritation. Any age.
  • Putty/slime. Manipulating something in your hands is a great way to stay focused or to calm down. It's also a way to explore a new sensation. 3 years+.
  • Tunnel. Crawling is an important foundation for brain development. Crawling through tunnels is a great way to promote body awareness and coordination and provide input to kids' muscles and joints for body regulation. A tunnel can also be a safe, quiet place to relax. 6 months+.
  • Rocking chair or rocking horse. Rocking back and forth slowly can help to regulate and slow down our bodies. Put some books near by, turn off the lights and use a soothing lamp to read stories. 18 months+.
  • Large muscle activities. Set up an obstacle course to work on following directions and large muscle coordination. Use stepping stones, balance beams, hippity-hop balls or large foam blocks. You can also use items already in your home: crawl over couch cushions or under tables, imitate how animals walk or try balance poses. 2 years+.

Give the gift of yourself

The best gift any kid can have is an adult's undivided attention. Give the gift of yourself with these suggestions.

  • Babies and young children are fascinated by faces. Seat the child on your lap facing you and play peek-a-boo, make funny faces and sounds, sing simple songs with finger plays and hand motions, or place an object on your head and pretend to sneeze it off. Wait for a reaction and see if he or she imitates you.
  • For older kids, look for opportunities for one-on-one time. This could be as simple as making cookies or doing a craft, or taking the child to an event or activity that you can enjoy together.


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