Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide for Preschoolers

Preschoolers are developing active imaginations, refining their motor skills, and learning problem solving skills. Today's list includes toys to promote development of pretend play, creativity, and fine motor skills in young children.

Melissa and Doug Toys
It is hard to go wrong with toys made by Melissa and Doug. This brand consistently makes high-quality, educational toys. A few of my favorites include:

Cutting Food Box
I always encourage parents of picky eaters to immerse their children in food related toys and books. This set does just that. Great for pretend play, this toy also introduces the concepts of parts and fractions.

Magnetic Fishing Puzzle
This is a great puzzle for encouraging eye-hand coordination. Also great for counting and learning colors.

Beginner Pattern Blocks
Great for working on colors, shapes, patterns and counting. Also good for matching and developing visual perceptual skills.

Zoomorphs are great for fine motor development and encouraging pretend play. The pieces are all interchangeable and the creations are endless. Zoomorphs come in a variety of sets, including Safarimorphs, Petmorphs and Dinomorphs (pictured below).

Hi-Ho Cherry-O
This classic counting game is also great for developing fine motor skills when picking up and counting the little cherries.

Hape Stormy Seas Balancing Game
Develops fine motor skills while introducing strategy.

I hope you find this list helpful! Check back tomorrow for a gift guide for elementary school aged children!

What are your favorite toys for preschoolers? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide for Toddlers

Today's gift guide focuses on toddlers. Toddlers are busy moving around, exploring their environment, and figuring out how things work. Here are some gifts to help them explore and learn.

Prince Lionheart Wheely Bug
This is a very durable ride-on toy and the wheels allow the child to move easily in all directions. Younger toddlers also enjoy pushing the wheely bug while walking.

Gymnic Rody Horse

The Rody Horse is great for building balance and core strength. It can also be a great source of vestibular and proprioceptive input for sensory seeking toddlers.

Gertie Ball
Balls are great for working on the eye-hand coordination and eye-foot coordination required to learn to kick, throw and catch. I personally like the Gertie Ball because it is easy to catch and it is soft, so missed catches don't result in tears. The bumpy texture is also fun for kids of all ages.

Handle Car
This car is good for young toddlers, although I've seen older toddlers/preschoolers who enjoy this car as well! I love that this car is plain and simple, which promotes imaginative play. This car is so easy to grasp that I also recommend it for children with motor impairments that make it difficult for them to grasp small items. 

Tiny Love Musical Stack and Ball Game
This is a good toy for babies/young toddlers that will continue to entertain as they get older. Babies often like the music and the balls that rattle when they shake them. As they get older, they learn how to put the balls inside to activate the music. Finally, it is a ring stacker as well!

I hope you find this list helpful! Please check back tomorrow for a gift guide for preschoolers!

What are your favorite toys for toddlers? 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Gift Guide for Babies

Babies develop rapidly and enjoy toys that allow for movement and sensory exploration. Babies learn about their bodies and their environment by exploring with their eyes, hands, feet, and mouth. Brightly colored toys, with high contrast and a variety of textures, are engaging for babies and encourage exploration.

Below are some of my favorite toys for babies to help promote development.

Rings, rings, rings
Rings are such a simple toy, but provide a great amount of entertainment for babies. Rings are great for grasping, exploring with their hands, and bringing their hands to their mouth. Most rings are textured, which allows for tactile sensory exploration as well.

Musical Table
Musical tables, such as this one by Leap Frog, are great for pulling to stand and cruising. The toys on top of the table are also great for fine motor development and learning about cause and effect

Baby Einstein Baby Neptune Ocean Orchestra Musical Toy
This toy is very engaging with its lights and music, and is a great way for babies to learn cause and effect. The buttons are very easy to activate, so it is good for infants with limited motor control. The lights and music are also great for children with limited vision. The engaging lights and music make this a great toy for keeping your baby entertained during tummy time. Another bonus for the parents: the classical music this toy plays is somewhat pleasant to listen to over and over.

Infantino Noodle Teether
This teether is easy to grasp and the legs are great for soothing sore gums. It also has a nice, loud rattle, which makes it great for grasping and exploring with the hands. SHOPPING TIP: I frequently see this rattle in the baby food aisle of grocery store. That's where I found mine and I was able to find a more gender-neutral color :)

Manhattan Toy Whoozit
This toy has bright colors and high contrast for visual stimulation and lots of legs for grasping. There are hidden noisemakers, including rattles, crinkled paper and squeakers, as well as a variety of textured fabrics to keep little hands busy. It also comes in a smaller, travel size version, called the Baby Whoozit.

Bright Starts Little Lights and Music Toy
This is a great toy for exploring and grasping with both hands. Each handle has a different texture and can be squeezed, which activates the lights and music.


 I hope you find this list helpful. Please check back tomorrow for a gift guide for toddlers!

What are your favorite toys for promoting infant development? 

Holiday Gift Guide for Children with Special Needs

Around this time of year, parents start asking me what gifts they should get for their children. My advice is always that a child with special needs doesn't necessarily need special toys. Just keep in mind your child's developmental stage and don't worry if your child is older than the suggested age on the package. If you are not sure where your child is developmentally, check with your child's therapist for guidance.

This week I will be posting a series of holiday gift guides to assist with selecting toys for children with a variety of abilities across a range of ages. First up, gifts for babies!

Friday, November 25, 2011

One week until AOTA's Autism West Conference!

I can't believe that Thanksgiving has come and gone and now it is nearly December! That means that the Autism West Conference by AOTA is almost here. The conference is being held next week, December 2-3, in Long Beach. My registration is submitted and hotel room booked! I can't wait to hear all of the knowledgeable speakers!

Is anyone else attending AOTA's Autism West?

For more information about the conference, click here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Website I love: Zero to Three

I just love the Zero to Three Website! Zero to Three is a  a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote the health and development of healthy toddlers and their website is packed full of information about infant and toddler development. The resources range from developmental milestone charts for parents to webinars on public policy for professionals. It's a great resource for both parents and professionals!

One of my favorite features of the website is the "From Baby to Big Kid" newsletter. Just enter your email address and your child's birthday, and you will receive a monthly email with age-based information about child development, the latest research and what it means for parents, age-based frequently asked questions, articles on common parenting challenges, and activities that promote bonding and learning.

Zero to Three also has a new podcast series available that looks promising. The goal is to help educate parents on the latest research on child development and what parents can do for their child.

Be sure to check out all Zero to Three has to offer at

Friday, November 18, 2011

Handprint Turkey

Another fun activity for Thanksgiving!

Dip the child's hand in paint to make a handprint, then draw the legs and face. For children who aren't as excited about dipping their hands into paint, it also works well to paint the child's hand with a paintbrush. Just remember, don't ever force a child to touch a texture that they don't want to touch. Encourage the child to participate in the activity in a different way, such as tracing the child's hand and then having the child paint their handprint with a paintbrush.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17: World Prematurity Day

In honor of World Prematurity Day, I would like to raise awareness about prematurity as a risk factor for autism. Recent studies have found an increased risk of autism in infants born prior to 33 weeks gestation. Click here to visit Autism Speaks for a review of prematurity related research.

It is still unclear how or why premature birth may be related to autism. Parents of children who are born prematurely are often aware of the medical, physical and cognitive challenges that their child may face. However, these studies indicate that parents should also keep an eye on behavioral aspects of their child's development.

As an occupational therapist working in early intervention, I think it is important to educate parents about developmental delays that their child may be at risk of developing. I would like to see physicians, nurses, therapists and other medical professionals educating parents of premature infants about risk factors for autism. These parents are so often told to not worry and that their child will catch up (which is often true), that professionals don't always take their concerns about autism seriously.

How do you educate families about risk factors association with prematurity?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ABLE Act 2011 - It's time to call your senators and members of congress

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2011 was introduced on Tuesday with bi-partisan support. The ABLE Act would enable contributions to tax-free 529 savings accounts for people with disabilities. This savings account would be similar to funds for college savings and would allow individuals with disabilities and their families to deposit earnings into a tax-exempt savings account to help pay for qualified expenses. Qualified expenses could include education, housing, transportation, employment support, health prevention and wellness, and assistive technology. Click here to check out a one page summary created by Autism Votes with a detailed description of qualified expenses.

What you can do to help:
  • Contact your member of congress and your senators and ask for their support. Autism Votes has created a basic letter that you can use. Click here to check it out. The website also identifies your members of congress and senators for you based on your address. Your child or family member does not have to have autism to use this template. You can add to it and customize it to describe your personal situation.
  • Spread the word. Ask your friends and family to get involved by sending in an email of their own.
  • Use social networking. Post something like this (courtesy of Autism Votes) on your Facebook page:
"Please help me contact our Congressmember & Senators today to ask for their support for the ABLE Act of 2011.  This bill will allow me to save for the future care needs of (CHILD's NAME) in the same way you set aside money for your child's college fund.  It takes 5 minutes and will help our family. Write DONE so I can thank you!"  

Please take 5 minutes out of your day to support this Act. Passage of the ABLE Act would be life changing for individuals with disabilities and their families. Check out Autism Votes for more information.

Fine Motor Turkey

It's almost Thanksgiving, which means it's turkey time!
To make a turkey like this one, all you need is a pinecone and some pipe cleaners.

Just twist the pipe cleaners to make feathers

And then stick the 'feathers' in the pinecone

This is a great Thanksgiving activity to work on fine motor skills!

Check back later this week for more turkey activities!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pumpkin Spice Playdough

Playdough is always a fun way to work on fine motor skills. The addition of pumpkin pie spice to this traditional playdough recipe smells so good you will want to eat it!

What you'll need:
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • 1 cup of water
  • food coloring (approximately 5 drops of red and 12-15 drops of yellow)
 First, combine the dry ingredients in a pan:


 Then, add the oil, water and food coloring:

Stir until smooth:

Stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, cook the mixture over medium heat until it forms a ball, approximately 3 minutes:
Let the dough cool slightly and then knead until it has a smooth texture:
Store in a ziploc bag for 1-2 weeks to maintain freshness. 

To make stems, gather some noodles, a ziploc bag and green food coloring:

Place the noodles in the ziploc bag with a few drops of food coloring and a teaspoon of water. Squish the noodles around until they are colored. Place on a plate to dry before using.

Have fun rolling and squeezing the playdough into little pumpkins! Work those little fingers to add the stems:
Or maybe make one big pumpkin!

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