Build Skills Through Play: Favorite Developmental Toys

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Two of my children are in occupational therapy. If you are not familiar with the field of pediatric occupational therapy you may wonder why on earth children would ever need a type of therapy related to an occupation. As it was explained to me, the occupation of children is to play and through play, children develop the fine motor skills that will help them progress throughout life.

One result of having children in therapy is that I have become more aware of toys that can help development and I try to seek these out for my own kids as well as when I buy birthday party gifts. There are some things even babies can do to and many of these toys will develop the muscles in their hands, which will help with essential tasks like writing later on.

I want to make it clear that I am not an occupational therapist myself – I am passing along what I have learned from spending hours and hours with therapists.

Here are a few of my favorite items:

Image via Amazon

Games: There are many games that require children to use their hands in very precise ways by asking children to use their pincer grasp (the same one used to pick up a Cheerio). Good examples are Operation, Jenga, and Honey Bee Tree, all of which require kids to grab smallish objects and have a little bit of problem-solving thrown in for good measure.

Image via Hasbro

Play-Doh: This one is an occupational therapist favorite since children can use their hands in so many different ways kneading, rolling, pounding, etc. Extra detail work can be done by creating things like eyes or buttons out of play-doh. Plain Play-doh is good enough but there are some adorable kits, including My Little Pony and Superheroes, that give kids new ways to play and can help keep them playing longer.

Image via Amazon

Triangles: Although not technically a toy, an occupational therapist recommended that my son use triangular pencils and crayons. These are not hard to find (both Crayola and Faber-Castell make triangular crayons) and they have made a tremendous difference in my son's drawing ability and writing.


22 adam head control
Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Playmat: Most parents know that their babies need a ton of tummy time from just a few days old. Most parents also know that babies nearly universally hate tummy time until they have it mastered. For babies, a good play mat is something that many occupational therapists recommend for development. I noticed a huge difference in my baby son's tolerance for tummy time when we upgraded to a Mamas & Papas Playmat and Activity Gym because it's thick and plush. Based on this I recommend going for the thickest playmat you can find to encourage lots tummy time. A good playmat will also double as an activity gym with lots of “extras” including hanging toys for when babies start to bat at objects and kick as well as explore textures.

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Building Toys: Toys that lock together require children using some strength. Some building toys also require children to use the all-important pincher grasp to pick them up and put them into place. Some toys that work well depending on the child's interest and ability are Roominate, ZOOB, and Legos – all of which also allow for a healthy dose of imagination as well.

Image via Mamas & Papas

Floor Seat: My oldest daughter first started occupational therapy as a baby and one of her therapist's first recommendations was for a floor seat like the Baby Bud to build strength but also to allow her to sit up and observe from a different position. Choosing a model with a tray and toys can also help develop grabbing skills and provide entertainment.

Image via Amazon

Grabbing Toys: Another early recommendation I received was for balls and ball-like objects that a baby can grab onto at any point when first starting to reach and hold onto objects. Examples are the popular Manhattan Toy Winkel that also has a rattle or the Oball Car that can be grabbed easily and also used to go zoom to get baby's interest.

Image via Amazon

Sensory toys: Many occupational therapists work on sensory integration with children. A favorite in my house is the vibrating Oball Wobble Bobble. Other sensory toys can be as simple as putting rice or dried beans in a bin. Adding some small objects for kids to find in the sensory bin will encourage them to dig.

{ MORE: So, Your Baby Still Isn't Walking? Guess Nobody Told Him to Worry about Milestones. }


Do you have any of these toys, or others you like for building skills? Share in the comments!

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Build Skills Through Play: Favorite Developmental Toys

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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