One of my favorite things to do in my therapy sessions is to hide the therapeutic aspects of things to my kids. Making therapy fun and engaging leads to increased engagement and less resistance to trying more challenging things. Over the course of my career, I have found that finding highly motivating craft activities can go a long way in getting kids to try things outside of their comfort zone. Being able to work on an activity for several sessions allows for the kids to learn about patience, flexibility and resilience and also makes them even more excited and proud of the final product. Below I share a handful of my favorite crafting, baking and STEAM activity sets. I tried to include gifts for children of a variety of ages so hopefully you will find something. Don't forget that I have so many more ideas that I am always happy to share so if you need specific suggestions for anyone, don't hesitate reaching out and asking. In the meantime, take a look at this years gift ideas and read about all the developmental and therapeutic benefits.
1. Moulin Roty Baking Set-I've been baking with my now 11 year old since she was old enough to be an active participant and she just loves baking now. Fun fact.....during Covid her aunt in California and she would do weekly baking/cooking dates over Zoom to keep their connection and it was one of the highlights of quarantine. Baking with kids can help create a beautiful connection between kids and their grownups but making sure that you have the right tools is essential. I wish that this baking set was available when my daughter was younger because the tools are just the right size for small hands and helps them be more independent and successful when baking. This gorgeous kit comes with an oven mitt, rolling pin, whisk, spatula, pastry cutter, pie tin, 2 heart-shaped cookie cutters, a muffin pan and a recipe book. They are kid-sized and can be used for actual baking or can be used during pretend play. Baking with kids can work on so many developmental skills such as improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourages hand-eye and bilateral coordination while also boosting confidence and self-esteem.
2. Giant Coloring Posters-Looking for a fun family activity to keep you all busy as the cold weather sets in? Lulu's Cuts and Toys has a great selection of these for you to choose from. I am a bit biased and really love the Brooklyn one but there are several to choose from. Depending on your living situation, you can hang this on a wall and keep up all the time for kids to color in as they please or work on it a little at a time, roll it back up and store in the sturdy box it comes in. Obviously this is a great activity to work on improving graphomotor skills but is also a great way to encourage conversation and language skills. These large pictures are big enough for a whole family to work on at the same time.
3. Tiny Baking Kit-what's cuter than mini baked goods??? A perfect gift for some of your older, more Tik-Tok savvy kids! One of my sisters gifted this to my daughter a few years ago and she spent countless hours playing with it. This set comes with 17 miniature sized baking tools and a recipe book with 20 recipes using all baking supplies you already have at home. Mini chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, pizzas and so much more will delight your children while working on developing fine motor and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye coordination and work on improving executive functioning skills while following the recipes such as focus, attention, organization and planning skills.
4. Flour Shop Rainbow Explosion Cake Kit-Flour Shop is a cake store in SoHo in Manhattan and was all everyone was talking about when it first opened years ago. If you have a serious baker on your shopping list this year, this would be a really fun gift for them. The kit comes with all the ingredients you need to make this 6-layer rainbow kit (you will need cake pans): 1 pouch of vanilla cake mix, 6 rainbow colored gels, 1 pouch of cream cheese frosting mix, 1 pouch of rainbow explosion mix (sprinkles), 1 pouch rainbow polka dots (sprinkles). This is an awesome gift for an older child who loves to bake and works on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, following directions, organization, planning and task completion.
5. Play-Dough Baking Kit-I am SO SO obsessed with this adorable "baking" kit for the little ones in your life. I am planning on ordering a handful of these for some of the kids on my shopping list this year and only hope that I am invited over to play with it! This kit comes with four silicone baking cups, candles, cookie cutters, a rolling pin, and pom poms, buttons, beads and jewels to decorate their cupcakes. It also comes with 3 containers of homemade/non-toxic cinnamon, strawberry and sugar cookie sprinkle play dough. First and foremost, these kits (be sure to check out all of the products from Young + Wild and Friedman because there are so many great ones to choose from) encourage creativity, imagination and play skills for little ones. They also work on improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, improve visual motor and visual perceptual skills and are great for sensory exploration.
6. Orb Factory Sticky Mosaics-I can't tell you how much my kids love doing these Sticky Mosaics and they have made my gift guide year after year. Simple one of the best fine motor crafting activities out there and the kids have no idea how many therapeutic goals they are working on when using them. For younger children, the stickers are larger and different shapes and colors which are easier for their fingers to manipulate. For older children, the stickers are slightly smaller and kids have to match the correct color to numbers. In addition to working on fine motor skills, kids can work on shape, color and number recognition, improves hand eye coordination and improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Attach to an easel to work on increasing upper extremity strength. Kids are so proud of the final product and love showing them off.
***Be sure to check out your local toy and book stores for these kits. I am always seeing them and grab them whenever I do!
7. Razzle Dazzle DIY Gem Kit-I discovered these awesome sets right before the lockdown and they ended up being a great thing for my virtual sessions for some of my kids. Very much like the sticky mosaic sets above, kids match colored gems to the correct letters to create a sparkly picture of various animals. The kit comes with a template, gems, a glue pen and a frame to protect your picture when completed. This is an amazing and fun way for kids to work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves hand-eye coordination and works on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.
8. Kid Made Modern Arts & Craft Library-this is one of my favorite arts and crafts collections and love that it is appropriate for children of all ages and developmental levels. This collection comes with over 1000 pieces of art supplies including peg dolls, wooden loose pieces, pipe cleaners, beads, pom-poms, googly eyes and SO much more and come in a sturdy case with a handle so it can be taken on the go. While they give you suggestions on what you can make with the different materials, it is truly and invitation for kids to use their imagination and be creative using a variety of materials. This open-ended craft library allows children to think outside the box and figure out all the different ways they can explore and use materials to create which helps with improving confidence and self-esteem.
9. Dress Me Threading Game-loving this "sewing" kit for kids by Haba. Kids work on improving hand eye coordination, bilateral coordination and fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while dressing these wooden dolls. Each set comes with 1 double-sided scene card, 36 clothing tiles, a sturdy stringing cord and 3 double-sided pattern cards. Kids can make their own outfits or follow the pattern cards (which is great for improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills and working on executive functioning skills such as focus, organization and task completion).
10. Hat Not Hate Quick Knit Loom-for younger children who are eager to learn how to knit but don't quite have the patience or coordination for knitting needles this is a great starting point. I began knitting during a sad time in my life and it's been nothing but a source of calm and comfort ever since. Post-Covid I am seeing that there are a lot of kids who need something to help them deal with some anxiety and I personally think busy hands help with that. I love this knitting loom from Faber Castell and Lion Brand Yarns that comes with all the materials needed to create two hats. My favorite thing about it is that they have also partnered with the Hat Not Hate Anti-Bullying Awareness organization to encourage children to knit a hat for themselves and then donate to the organization during Anti-Bullying month (October). This particular kit comes with all the materials needed to create two hats including 4 balls of yarn, a reusable loom, a loom hook, a tassel and pom-pom maker and two #HATNOTHATE leather tags to attach to the completed hats. The instructions are clear and easy to follow meaning kids will have success which will lead to increased confidence and self-esteem. Additionally, kids will work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills and executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.
11. Knitters of Tomorrow Beginner Kit-do you have someone in your life who would like to learn how to knit but not sure where to start? This beginners kit is one of the best that I have seen when searching for friends. It comes with 2 balls of yarn, a set of light-weight knitting needles, a plastic sewing needle for completing your projects and a beginner's guide pattern book with lessons broken into reasonable and appropriate lessons. There are also suggested links to online video tutorials to guide the children as they learn how to knit a hat and scarf. Knitting, once mastered, is such a wonderful skill for children. It's not only an amazing fine motor, visual motor and visual perceptual activity, it's great for working on improving executive functioning skills such focus, attention, organization and frustration tolerance. Most importantly, when a child masters knitting, they have increased confidence and self-esteem.
12. Kid-Friendly Succulent Kit-I'm loving all the great DIY gardening kits made for younger children and am completely obsessed with this succulent kit! Gardening is a great hands-on activity that not only encourages sensory exploration, but works on improving fine motor, grasping, hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. These kid-friendly kits come with a succulent (easy for kids to take care of), a ceramic animal pot, mini gardening tools, stickers for decorating and a bag of soil. In addition to all the therapeutic benefits, kids learn about responsibility by watering the plant.
13. Classic Friendship Bracelet Making Kit-it's so fun when an activity from my own childhood comes back so when I saw these friendship bracelet kits from Purl Soho, I immediately bought them for the tweens/teens in my life. Each kit (you choose your color-wave) comes with enough materials for 9-18 bracelets depending on the width of the bracelets you make. Each set comes with a safety pin and 5 spools of Chinese Knotting Cord in a really nice storage box with a step-by-step friendship bracelet pattern book. Great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination and works on improving executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, organization and task completion.
14. Arcade Claw Game-for your STEAM loving kids, this is a pretty awesome gift. The Arcade Claw Game from Klutz Maker lab will get your kids excited for learning and creating. Kids follow the child-friendly, illustrated instructions to build their very own arcade claw game from a variety of materials (chipboard parts, acetate windows, cotton string, dowels, tall and short pulleys, carriage, claw and plastic snaps) . Once built, kids can fill the claw machine with 3 prize capsules and try and use the claw to grab them. This toy encourages the development of fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination and works on executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, following directions, planning and organizational skills.
15. S.T.E.A.M. School Deluxe Studio Science-another STEAM gift but more appropriate for younger kids, this kit contains 10 amazing arts and crafts projects that has some kind of fun science, math and engineering concepts built in. Each activity comes with a fully illustrated card to make it easy for them to follow along for task completion. Some of the activities included are building with conductive light-up dough, playing with gears, making paper gliders. Kids will learn so much about engineering, electricity and so much more while working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, work on improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills and improve executive functioning skills such as focus, attention, planning and organizational skills.
16. The Kindness Mission Box-I felt like it was important to complete this list with this awesome activity box. There is never a time to not try and teach our children about the importance of kindness and how they can spread it themselves. This activity kit includes a series of "secret missions" for kids to complete that teach kids about caring for themselves, their friends, family, community and environment. Children go through all 4 "training missions" by making clay friendship pots, a wooden birdhouse and origami creations before they move onto a deco of over 50 kindness missions to complete throughout the year. In addition to all the crafting materials and the cards, the kit also includes a self-care checklist which helps create healthy habits in children. Kids have no idea that while they are engaged in these activities, they are also working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve visual motor and perceptual skills and are engaged in constant social emotional learning.
Once again, I have tried to link some of my favorite local toy stores whenever I could as I have always found it very important to support our local businesses but even more so now. Many of the items listed above are ones that I have seen in most toy stores I have visited all over the place. And since are all hearing about shipping nightmares and problems with supply chain, why not take out some of the stress and support your local stores where you don't have to worry about toys arriving on time. If you are shopping for family members who are not local, find out their local toy stores and see if you can shop from there. If you are in the NYC area, be sure to check out the following stores: Lulu's Cuts and Toys, Little Things Toy Store, Norman and Jules, Annie's Blue Ribbon General Store, West Side Kids, Stationary and Toy World, Mary Arnold Toys, Kidding Around Toys and Boomerang Toys.
Again, if you are looking for specific crafting or baking ideas for your kids or kids on your shopping list, please do not hesitate reaching out to me for suggestions. I have so many more thoughts on great gifts for the important toddlers in your life. I am only an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org and love to hear from and help in any way I can.