Holiday Gift Guide – Toys That Promote Development

Kids at Play

Toys That Promote Development

Holiday season has arrived! The beautiful decorations, the delicious treats, the warm and fuzzy sweaters, and of course…the presents! Gift-giving is part of the joy of the season, but many people (including myself), find it a bit stressful picking out the perfect gift. So why not consider toys that promote development?

Sometimes it’s even trickier shopping for kids. I know my son has a ton of toys (thank you hand me downs!) and doesn’t really need any more. But I also know that my family likes to get him things that he can play with and be reminded of them.

Dr Dina Kulik Play

From my perspective, I’m always extra-thrilled when it’s something I know will also help him learn and develop more, whether it be an educational toy or one that promotes gross and fine motor skills.

So with that in mind (and my PT brain in motion), here are a few ideas for toys if you are stuck on what to give that extra special kiddo in your life this holiday season.


Infant to Toddler:

  • Tummy time toys: Tummy time can be no fun for a lot of babies, so anything that helps with it is great. Infant gyms and play mats often have lots of attachments that can be moved around to help support baby’s chest and also help distract them while they have fun. Look for ones that have adjustable pieces, mirrors, or lots of cause and effect toys on them.
  • Activity tables: These are my favorite as they really travel well through to toddlerhood. Look for a table that has removable legs (ideally 4 legs but the tables with 3 work well also). This way baby can sit with the table on the floor with the legs off, and stand at the table with the legs on. But what I really love activity tables for is a little PT-hack that I have come to use all the time. Take off only 2 of the legs, so you can place the table on an angle to the floor. This a great way to practice kneeling and pulling up, especially for those little ones who don’t like going on their knees. Kneeling is a fantastic position to promote weight bearing through the knees and hands as they prop on the table.


Toddler to Childhood:

  • Blocks: I don’t think a child really can have too many blocks. My son’s favorite activity is building one skinny tall Mega Bloks tower and seeing how high he can make it before it falls over. He also loves knocking it down! Blocks help promote visual motor skills, fine motor skills, and allow for a lot of imaginative play as the child gets older.
  • Dressing dolls/animals: These are typically stuffed animals that come wearing clothes that have a lot of buttons, snaps, and zippers that the child can play with and practice their skills. There are also some versions out there where the different pieces of the animal come together by doing these different dressing skills. What a fun way to practice helping out getting ready!
  • Threading/lacing puzzles: Fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, hand eye coordination – what more can I say! These puzzle boards come in handy when travelling too as there aren’t any pieces to lose.
  • Construction/tool sets: These are great for hand strengthening and learning how to twist and turn their little wrists as they use their imagination.
  • Tricycles: Might seem like an odd purchase for the winter, but if you have the space inside it’s a great idea to start working on pushing the pedals and coordinating steering in a safe environment.


Childhood to Tweenhood:

  • Ring toss: The classic game has come a long way with a variety of versions out there now. Practicing throwing to a target helps develop visual motor integration, hand eye coordination, and can be a great lesson in turn taking and persistence.
  • Balance stones: These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but essentially they are little props you can place on the floor which challenge balance and stability. Place them in a line and see if your child can get across without touching the floor.
  • Yoga games: Not your typical board game! There are a few great games out there that use yoga as the medium to move forwards in the game, and when it comes to improving balance, posture, strength, coordination, and self-regulation, you can’t beat yoga.


Quick Tips:

  1. When shopping, take an extra second to think about what the child will learn from playing with the toy
  2. Look up what developmental milestones your little gift recipient should be working on, and look for toys that promote those skills
  3. Keep it fun! There are so many great options out there these days that make learning entertaining. Who knows – you might learn something too!
  4. Share your “Toys That Promote development” ideas with friends & family

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Jennifer Halfin, MSc(A) PT Reg (Ont)

About Jennifer Halfin, MSc(A) PT Reg (Ont)

Jennifer is a registered physiotherapist working in the field of paediatrics. She has worked with children of all ages, helping them to achieve their motor milestones through various therapeutic approaches. Jenn also has extensive experience working with infants with torticollis and plagiocephaly. As a new mom herself, she loves sharing her experiences and learning from others.

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