Toys for Explorers
Toys for Explorers
What should you get for the playful, quirky, creative, never-stop-moving kids in your life? Let our OT experts help. We've curated the best gifts of the year.
Make the Journey Matter
Most of us don't look forward to the "travel" part of our trips - especially with young children. Still, packing some activities (and plenty of snacks) for your journey can make bearable - or maybe even fun.
MAP IT OUT. Nothing makes a parent's eyes roll more than the dreaded, "Are we there yet?" By giving your child a physical, foldable map of your journey, you can send the question right back to them. For young children, use a map of the United States that is actually a laminated placemat, perfect for marking up with dry erase crayons. It's also double-sided, so your child can keep a tally of every out-of-state license plate spotted on your way.
Skills: Sequencing, Spatial Awareness, Visual Perceptual Skills (Map Reading)
PLAY TRAVEL GAMES. Those teeny-tiny pieces that make travel games portable are also a great way to develop fine motor skills. For elementary-aged children, even if you never leave home, playing the mini version of Connect4 or Battleship helps develop small muscles in the hand, and that translates to an efficient handwriting grasp. (Be sure your child maintains an “O” shape with the thumb/index fingers - OTs call it an "open webspace.") For young children, reusable sticker books encourage creativity, and peeling and sticking strengthens small finger muscles.
Skills: Fine Motor, Social Skills (Taking Turns & Following Rules
PASS NOTES. Sometimes we all need a little piece and quiet - especially while in transit. Declare it "quiet time" and communicate only with scratch-written notes and pictures. Try a travel-sized Etch-a-Sketch or this pad of rainbow scratch paper comes with a stylus, but you can literally scratch/write with anything - a penny, a fingernail, or a key. For young children, a mini Magna Doodle is a great early writing tool to try.
Skills: Fine Motor, Social Skills, Impulse Control
Make the Most of the Destination
Now that you've arrived, make the most of your trip with these portable and engaging activities.
GIVE THE KID A CAMERA. Giving a child - toddlers on up - their own durable camera encourages them to observe their surroundings and focus on what interests them. You might be surprised at the results from their knee-high view. This waterproof, kid-proof camera is a great option, and it's practically indestructible. Alternatively, a pack of disposable cameras make an unexpected loss manageable.
Skills: Visual Attention, Visual Motor Integration (Pointing & Shooting)
WRITE ABOUT YOUR TRIP. Even for reluctant writers, sending postcards and keeping a journal can make writing fun. I'm partial to journals with graph paper (rather than standard lines or unlined pages) because the grids are equally conducive to writing or drawing. Bring along rock crayons because small writing utensils encourage kids to “pinch” with their thumb and index finger, promoting a more functional grasp.
Skills: Fine Motor
COLLECT NATURE. This plastic bug jar has a magnifier attached to it, making it a great way to take a closer look at your new environment.
Skills: Sensory Experience, Visual Perceptual Skills, Observation
BLOW BUBBLES. When little people need to get some energy out, blowing - and chasing - bubbles is an excellent strategy. These non-toxic bubbles last longer than standard bubbles, and they don't leave a sticky, soapy residue (which is great if you're stuck inside). As an added bonus, blowing bubbles in a slow, controlled manner can be calming. Bring along some pipe cleaners to twist into extra wands of all different sizes.
Skills: Motor Planning, Sensory (Oral-Motor), Fine Motor
PLAY BALL. Play a family game of volleyball with an inflatable beach ball that takes up next to no space in your suitcase. For younger children or indoor play, use a balloon to make the game easier to play - but just as much fun.
Skills: Visual Motor (Tracking), Motor Planning, Core Strength