By: Citlaly Gonzalez Psy.D Clinical Psychologist
Winter brings chillier temperatures, twinkling lights, extra family time and the opportunity for holiday shopping and gift-giving. There are many gift guides out there. Big City Readers put together this one that includes toys to support learning and development, and sensory play and of course books! There’s this one by Buzzfeed for kids with endless energy. Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley offers something unique- a holiday gift guide carefully curated with the needs of our families in mind and offered through the lens of mental health and wellness for the whole family.
Many of the links included in this guide take you to Amazon, so add Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley as your selected charity through smile.amazon.com and get ready to shop!
Family Time at Home
The old adage your presence is the best present is never truer than during the holidays. This is a great time to think of ways to spend time together during the winter months and look toward ways to create memories throughout the year. Board games bring the family together and there are many great options for even the youngest children. Worried about the meltdowns that happen when a child is still learning to lose graciously? Stick with cooperative games such as those by Peaceable Kingdom. The Race to the Treasure is in heavy rotation in the Social Services department as is Monkey Around, a non-competitive game that includes gross motor play, imitation, vocabulary, and social-emotional skills through a card game that prompts players to do movements together.
There’s no rule that therapy games have to stay in the therapy room. Consider adding some Social Services classics to your own toybox at home and normalize talking about mental health. These Kimochis provide a cute way to talk about feelings and Create a Story cards support sequencing and story-telling. To support calm feelings this card deck introduces mindfulness while this expandable breathing ball brings deep breathing to life.
Winter is long so think of games that keep you moving indoors. Painter’s tape in the multi-color pack is great for creating homemade obstacle courses with little equipment. Add in stepping stones, wobble boards, a figure-eight balance beam, or even tunnels and ball pits to level up the fun indoors.
The Tricky Spots
Not every routine at home brings smiles to children and caregivers. But what if we could provide some tools to support these “tricky spots?” What if we could identify toys that we could integrate into daily routines and incorporate them in ways that help? Think of what part of the day feels challenging and add in some gifts to help make those tasks feel more exciting or run more smoothly.
Bath-time: Put together a Bath bin to make bath time more appealing. “Time for bath” and “Time to choose a bath toy” have a different ring to them. Consider bath crayons, bath paint, bath bombs, bath confetti, color drops, glow-sticks, –any of which would make great stocking stuffers, or you can choose something like this interactive set that lights up and has music parts or a bath-time basketball hoop.
Bedtime: Help create a calm environment and support a healthy bedtime routine with these recommendations that might make your child look forward to bedtime! Create a soothing and distraction-free environment with this bed tent or try a light projector such as this one that creates dinosaur images on the ceiling, this huggable turtle, or this brave bear with his flashlight and book.
Mealtimes: Take some of the struggles out of mealtimes with some of these fun gifts. Which food to try next? Depends on the spinner or the order of this path or these fun plates that are sure to make meals fun. You can also help promote self-help skills and independence with gifts that help your child participate in cooking –not to mention the gift of time and memories made together in the kitchen. Both of these wooden knife and wooden knife set are safe for most novice chefs whereas this one might be more appropriate for children who are ready to use a real knife that is still child-safe.
It would be remiss to make a holiday gift guide without mentioning “the classics” –open-ended toys, art supplies, and books. Here are some Easterseals Dupage & Fox Valley favorites:
Must-Have-Toys: Dolls and dollhouses, blocks, and play food are the play trifecta. If you have these, your play kit is complete! Dolls are great for both boys and girls and help foster pretend play, teach routines, and promote caregiving. Melissa & Doug has a beautiful wooden one while Woodzies offers an option at a lower price point. (Hint: Woodzies have a lot of other settings you can add like the school set to help your child share and tell you about their day). There are many options for play food, with Melissa & Doug offering a wide variety of beautiful sets, some that invite “cutting” or with Velcro pieces to assemble. Speaking of building, blocks are always a hit! Whether it’s Legos, wooden blocks, or a fun option like these, blocks are a great open-ended toy that provides endless possibilities for creative play.
Art: Art provides not only the opportunity to create but also to connect and express thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Some favorites include Crayola Slick Sticks which provide rich color with minimal pressure, perfect for toddler hands and those with motor challenges and Sharing journals such as this one provide a great way to connect with your children through art.
Books: Every book has its perks and particular uses and reasons to recommend it. Poke-a-dot books help support pointing and the Indestructible book series is perfect for children still learning to be gentle with books. Two of my all-time favorite books are The Rabbit Listened which reminds us to stop and listen to what children really need and All the Ways to Be Smart which celebrates the many ways kids learn, play, and explore. Remember, books are not just bound paper, they’re the promise of time spent together bonding and reading with your child.
We have a wonderful library at Easterseals and a carefully curated book list. Ask your therapist for recommendations or contact the Social Services Team. Two favorite resources for book recommendations are Miss Beth and her team at Big City Readers and Kido.
Let’s not forget the caregiver
While the focus of the holidays is often on the children, let’s not forget the gift of a healthy, happy, and well-taken care of parent. I recently saw a post of Mothercould (highly recommend for ideas of activities and sensory play!) where Myriam, the blogger, shared the idea of a gift basket she made for herself for self-care following the birth of her youngest daughter. What an amazing idea! So, this last recommendation is to put together some of your own favorites. Your favorite snacks, gift cards for your favorite store (who doesn’t love a solo trip to Target?), and a note to remember to take care of yourself this holiday season and into the new year.
The best gift for your child . . .
Of course, the focus of any gift should be the recipient and what brings them joy. You are the expert on your child and what they like most! Grant yourself the permission to fill their stocking with the Guaranteed Wins! Confession: my child’s stocking includes a bottle of eczema cream because he loves this part of our nightly routine and a wooden McDonalds food set –a Frankenmixture of trendy wooden toys and the food parents don’t always want to admit their kids love. Those items aren’t likely to be found on anyone else’s gift guide, but they are things I know will bring a smile to his face and will be immediately put to use, and that makes them good gifts!
To determine the best gifts for your child, think of the parts of your day where you could use some support and choose a gift that will grant it. Reflect on your favorite routines and memories with your child and consider ways to incorporate these into your gift. Consider how the gifts you select will be used in a way that supports your family’s health and happiness and above all the time you share together.
While you complete your holiday shopping, don’t forget to checkout at smile.amazon.com with Easterseals DuPage & Fox Valley as your selected charity. You can also take a look at our wishlists for therapist and teacher requested items to send to our centers. Both efforts on Amazon can provide year-round support of our services and programs. The featured items make great developmental toys and gift ideas for children of all ages too. Thank you for supporting us this holiday!
- Villa Park Wishlist
- Features pretend play toys, art supplies, bubbles and baby and toddler toys
- Elgin Wishlist
- Features books, movement and baby toys for use in therapy
- Naperville Wishlist
- Features board games and sensory materials to use in therapy
- Lily Garden Wishlist
- Features kinetic sand, paint and playdoh supplies, fidget toys and more for our infant, toddler, preschool, and pre-k classrooms.