• Sierra Christensen

Holiday Gift Ideas to Maximize Development

#gifts #toys #kids #child #grossmotor #movement #development #play

Since it is that time of year, I thought I would compose a list of my favorite gifts and toys to promote development and play with kids. Below are some of the top items that I use both as a pediatric physical therapist, and also as a mom :)

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1) Exercise ball/peanut ball

These exercise balls are a perfect size for many kids, and there are so many activities you can do with them!

These peanut balls come in multiple sizes so you can really customize it to each child. Again, so many ideas on how to use these...some of my faves are having the child get on his/her stomach and lift arms and legs to 'fly like Superman/Wonder Woman', sitting straddling the ball and playing catch or balloon tap, and of course, bouncing on them!

2) Soft climbing toys

My husband and I just purchased these climbing blocks for our sons for Christmas. I will keep you posted on how we like them, but what really made these the best choice (in my opinion) is the variety of shapes and sizes. This variety allows kids to build their own climbing 'gym', forts, steps, tunnels, etc., and that means that this gift will be a winner not only in toddlerhood, but for many years afterward as well.

3) Motor planning/gross motor skill games

I could go on and on with games that promote *gross motor planning and development! There are so many like these above, or you can make almost any game into a 'gross motor' game by requiring the child to perform a certain activity to earn game pieces, puzzle pieces, or a turn.

*Side note: 'gross motor' does NOT mean an engine spewing oil like my husband thought; 'gross motor' is simply the large muscle groups in your body; 'motor planning' is your brain telling those muscles what to do in the correct sequence.

4) Scooter

Scooters like these are fun to use in races, knock down bowling pins/blocks, or be pulled with a hula hoop or rope (just keep safety in mind!) There are also 2-seater options for little ones who need more assistance with moving, or more stability when laying down on his/her stomach.

5) Trampoline

Kids of all ages LOVE trampolines and jumping. Even if your child does not yet have the jumping motor skill, you can use these to work on bouncing, balance, and strengthening. We have an enclosed one in our house (I know, we're crazy), and our boys love to go in there, jump, wrestle, and just hang out.

6) Slides

Slides are great gross motor items because they not only are fun, but they require kids to climb up the stairs, which is a whole-body strengthening activity that incorporates bilateral coordination (using both sides of the body). They will do this over and over again, leading to improved balance and strength!

7) Tunnels

Crawling through tunnels promotes strong shoulder development, bilateral coordination, core strength, and motor planning. There are pop-up tunnels and tunnels that are considered more 'sensory' and calming in nature. These sensory tunnels require more work to get through, as the tunnel is not held open on its own.

8) Ride-ons

Ride-ons come in many different types; there are wiggle ones, pedal ones, push ones, pull ones, and more. Here are some of my top picks in each category. All of these ride-ons work on strength, balance, coordination, motor planning, and sequencing. Also, what kid doesn't like to zoom around on a wheeled apparatus??!

9) Balance bikes

Balance bikes are pretty self-explanatory...they work on balance, along with coordination, motor planning, sequencing, safety awareness, and body awareness. We just bought our almost 3-year-old son this balance bike, so I will update on this as well!

10) Balance stones/beams/discs

Balance stones and beams are a wonderful and imaginative way to work on balance, motor planning, visual attention, sequencing, attention to task, coordination, and strengthening. Balance discs can also be used with seating to help extra-fidgety kids maintain focus; the disc absorbs the wiggles and shifting that can otherwise become distracting.


This is a 'Think and Cycle' by Fisher-Price that I just found and looks so cool! It integrates both movement and gross motor activities along with the electronics and technology that everyone (especially KIDS) love!

These are just a few of the items that you can buy to maximize development in children, but there are also oodles of opportunities for free developmental play (another post for another day)! The important thing is to get kids to engage, explore, and embrace their environment, and in turn, their full potential! Let me know what you think of these ideas, and post your favorite gross motor/movement gifts!



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