It’s the holiday season yet again. In this time of family, friends, foods, and traditions, many little minds are thinking about new toys. This is the perfect opportunity for parents and family members to stock up on games and toys to facilitate their children’s development. While some older children might have wish-lists to be fulfilled, there are plenty of toys outside of the latest trend that will help promote growth in children of all ages. As any therapist knows, a toy can be a powerful tool to promote developmental gains, particularly in children who are a little behind their peers. Below are some toys that help kids strengthen their big muscle groups and attain gross motor skills, without making play seem like work.
A learning table is a great investment if you have an infant. It will grow alongside your baby and help her attain valuable gross motor skills such as body control in tummy time, cross-body reaching, independent sitting, cruising, standing, and weight-shifting, all while promoting her upper body and cognitive growth. Early learners can keep busy with the lights, sounds, and activities; the height of the tables adjusts so that babies from 6 to 36 months can play in various positions. Babies will be challenged throughout each step of their development and learn about cause and effect.
Have two toddlers at home, and one just started to walk? Piano Mats are a great introduction to jumping, stomping, and creating. Not only do they incorporate music into play, they work on total body coordination. Usually meant for kids 4 years and up, your littlest toddler can still benefit from imitating the movements of his older sibling. Very much like a musical hopscotch board, the visual cues of the piano keys mean children can work on skipping, single leg hops, jumping forward, backwards, sideways, long jumps, and following directions; all very important for their gross motor development.
There are a variety of scooters for children of different ages and skills. Pre-teens and older children may feel the excitement of zooming from place to place on a two-wheeled lightweight version. However, kids as young as 3 years old can benefit from an upright scooter. There are three-wheeled versions with either two wheels up front or two wheels in the back, to increase safety and stability for kids who are younger or not as coordinated. Scooters are fun equipments that work on balance, core control, lower body coordination, motor control, and stability on one leg. If your child prefers one leg to another, have her practice weaving between obstacles on the less strong leg. Just remember, whether used indoors or outdoors, always use adult supervision and protective gear.
Miniature trampolines with handrails are a great way to keep your little one active if they are stuck at home on a cold winter day. Jumping up and down will strengthen children’s legs, core muscles, and arms. With or without holding on, kids can work on their jumping skills and balance, as the trampoline helps the initiation of push-off yet adds difficulty during landing. Many of these trampolines are adjustable, easily disassembled, and are still sturdy enough to support up to 150lbs. Turn it into a challenging part of an obstacle course or have it in front the television so they can keep their muscles pumping, even during an inactive part of their day.
Therapy balls aren’t just for adults or for the gym. Children’s therapy balls come in many shapes and sizes. Some balls have legs and others have handles. They can be sat on during class, video games, or while doing homework, to strengthen postural muscles. Bouncy balls with handles come in various colors and patterns that can be personalized to your child. Bouncing up and down and moving forward while sitting on these balls will work all the muscles of the body and coordination. Children as young as 3 years old will be able to race alongside their peers and siblings while sitting on the ball, to build muscle strength, endurance, and motor control. Sitting on a big ball while completing a fine motor activity challenges their attention to task and will make any tedious task less boring.
Zoom balls are sliding footballs that can be played indoors or out. It can be played between two kids or with an adult, and teaches upper-body coordination, motor control, and cooperation. The large movements required sliding the ball from one side of the strings to the other work out the upper arms, the upper back, and the postural muscles needed to keep the body still while performing the task. Different muscles can be recruited by changing the direction of movement to open the strings and move the ball.
Balance Board/Bosu Ball
For your teenager who may need to work on ankle strength or stability, a balance board or Bosu ball is a good investment. Balance boards often come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and direction of movement. They can work on range of motion in the ankles as well as proprioception and strength, especially after sports injury. Certain maze balance boards can foster motor control and cognitive development (for example, the Guidecraft Marble Maze BalanceBase), where kids 3-8 years old can strengthen their problem solving skills while working on standing balance. For the older kids, a Bosu ball or a balance disc can be used as part of a balance work out, focusing on dynamic strengthening during lunges and squats, or stability training during static standing.
Remember, adult supervision is always advised when children are using unstable/compliant surfaces. Hopefully you now have some ideas of different types of toys to bring out the active side of your little ones. Fortunately, there are all kinds of options outside of video games for children to play with in the house. Becoming a knowledgeable toy shopper this holiday season will give you more time to spend with the kids and less time racking your brains for the latest trends to bring home. Click here for a list of toys that promote fine motor skills in children of all developmental stages. Have fun and stay safe!