Okay, friends. I’ve wanted to do this for years, and I finally sat down to do it! Introducing: ABChristmas! This is a roundup of the Barlows’ favorite toys – things we used for developing with Jack, as well as things we simply enjoy! When Jack was younger, I so wished someone would have written a list like this! I searched and searched for things that would be fun for him but also help him grow! So, here it is… practical, fun, smart gifts! I’ll tell you what’s not on here… that Melissa and Doug puzzle that teaches kids how to UNLOCK things! Who invented that?!
My boys liked this toy so much that I buy him for almost every baby shower I attend! You can make up a million games with him, and he’s so cute!
There’s that whole stage of development about the midline… Come to midline, reach away from midline, cross midline! We used a bunch of these to work on those skills when Jack was a baby!
This rattle was so good for all of that midline business that I now buy it for almost all showers, as well! It’s so colorful and happy, and Jack simply loved it! We lost ours for a couple weeks, so I replaced it! Of course, we ended up with two, which was a okay by Jack!!!!
My aunt made us a gorgeous black and white quilt to help Jack’s brain develop. He spent a LOT of tummy time on that baby! We learned that he had a hard time finding colorful things on it for quite some time, so I eventually found some solid, dark-colored quilts to use for that kind of work (finding things on your quilt), and he used his black and white quilt for hanging out! There are black and white flashcards and toys, but here’s a quilt that is somewhat similar to ours.
I’m not sure when the OBall was invented, but I’d done my fair share of babysitting by the time I had kids, and I felt like they were new when Jack was a baby. His therapists loved them for that midline work referenced above, and because Jack loves sports, we used it as a crawling and rolling incentive for many years! This little froggy is adorable… you’ll probably eventually have a few of these guys in different shapes. But the frog head may make this easier to see and find for a baby that have visual perception and discrimination struggles.
To incentivize Jack to crawl, we used all sorts of toys like this that moved. Jack was pretty motivated to crawl and walk, but I have tons of clients and friends’ kids that used these for religiously.
Before I had Jack, I thought these toys were just classics. Then, I realized all of the benefits to them… Container play (the dumping, the putting back in, the repeating!) is an important developmental milestone, and man, did Jack ever rock that one! We dumped and stacked these rings and shapes millions of times!
This one falls in the category of Smart Parenting! Your kids will throw EVERYthing off of their high chairs, including the things intended to entertain them! Some super smart guy invented a suction cup toy… this saved me with the Jackman! Pro tip: buy suction cups. Attach to the bottom of the tray with a string. Tie cups to the string… no more bending over!
My kids’ all time favorite toy is this marble run. We bought a starter set like this one when Griffin was a toddler. We added to it little by little over the years. My boys still build marble runs together! If a parent builds, the marble run is fun for cause and effect, but as kids start to build, they are working on problem solving, visual perception, planning and all sorts of skills!
Play, Cause and Effect, and Fine Motor became the focus for us in the pre-school years. Here are some toys that we used over and over again to work on these skills.
Jack’s most recent favorite toy is definitely Magnatiles. We build and build and build! These toys make building super easy, and the sky’s the limit with creativity! They’re somewhat expensive, but I think they’re worth the investment. We have lots of variations – like the marble run and the track with a cars but the classic set if our favorite!
There are lots of toys that help babies learn cause and effect. The basic premise is that they do something, and the toy does something in return. Push a button to get music. Switch a switch for lights. We didn’t have this toy, but look at how fun it looks!
It’s never too early to start working on hard strength. We did this with tube poppers, fine motor toys, and things like these PipSquigz. We stuck these to windows, the fridge, the bathtub, and the highchair. Jack had tons of fun pulling them off of surfaces, and eventually, he loved building with them! Fun fact--- if you throw them at a window, they’ll stick sometimes!!!
Both of my boys LOVED music as babies and toddler. Both still do! This Melissa and Doug was our go to starter set and is something I still gift to toddlers. We added instruments from our Kindermusik classes (which I’d also highly recommend!) over the years, and we made instruments out of rocks, pots and pans, combs, … you name it!
I have to admit that I am awful at playing! I didn’t pretend as a kid and was terrible at pretend play with my own babies… but we Barlows love a game. This is one of our favorites from our toddler years. It helped Jack work on gross motor skills, and we had so many laughs as we all crashed on failed attempts! This link is for Fat Brain Toys, a website and catalog that has sooooo many wonderful toys!
This is a favorite game from my parents’ house! The best part is that it doesn’t require reading! There are pictures for each idea.
This is Jack’s current favorite game. It’s so fun! It’s kind of like Minute to Win It. It has plastic cups, pingpong balls, chips, etc., and it sets you up with various challenges. In a family with five boys, we play this one over and over again!
A lot of children continue to work on developmental skills in the school years. Many of the pre-school toys are still favorites in our house, in fact! The toys I’ve gathered for this School Aged category focus more on social engagement and behavioral/emotional regulation. We find that working on these skills at home yields more success at home.
Once kids start school, regulation strategies may need to change. They may get more tired, anxious, or overstimulated; and their schedules may change. Many of my clients have felt it necessary to get swings when their kids are in elementary school. We’ve had a couple indoor swings. This is our current one, and it’s my favorite. Jack sits, spins, stands, and hangs on this. He swings every morning before school, and it helps so much!
We built a sensory/ninja gym in our garage a few years ago. We have two sets of monkey bars from which we hang various “grips” and bars, a cargo net, a climbing wall. Our neighbor has something like this in between two trees, and the kids seem to love it. Heavy work can be a super good tool for regulation.
I got this for Griffin when he was in elementary school. It’s simply a box of conversation starters. We’ve had them on various coffee tables and even our kitchen table over the years. Now it resides in his room, and we pull it out for road trips. Teens can be tricky (at best!), and these are one trick to get them talking!
It’s a classic, and it’s so fun! Uno is pretty easy, and it teaches so many skills. Matching, turn taking, right and left, counting, sorting, conversation skills. We play Uno a LOT right now, as we’re trying to work through some attention span struggles. Somehow Jack’s record is best in our family!
We have found that having a fun basement equates to hosting kids at our house! As Jack settles in to middle school, we’re learning that we have to work harder at social engagement for him. Jack does best with really structured activities, and since we want him to be as regulated as possible, we use our basement games to facilitate social interaction. We have quite a few basement games, but if you’re looking for an all-in-one, this would be an excellent choice! I don’t think you need to buy something this expensive… there are even table top ping pong sets… just teach your child the rules to a few games they can play with friends, and the social engagement may work itself out on its own!
I wanted books for baby shower gifts. I was so afraid that I’d have girls and that people would give me uncomfortable dresses and glittery princess wands! I told anybody that would listen that I wanted books, books, and more books! Both of my boys are avid readers, and I attribute that to their nature – but also to the language- and literacy-rich environment that we created. We read every night before we go to bed, and we’ve always used books to teach new lessons. Have a hard day? There’s a book for that. Starting soccer? There’s a book for that. Feeling big feelings? I have a whole library on that topic!!! My mom, an elementary teacher, says that what’s important is not WHAT you read but THAT you read… so we read, read, and read!!! Here are a few of our favorites…
A few weeks ago, I asked you all if you’d like me to add a genre for young male readers. Griffin was a voracious reader, and whenever I shared the books, he was reading on Facebook, it would start good conversations! You all wanted this list, so here it is (without his help, because I can’t ever get him out of a pool long enough to get this kind of info!). I haven’t written descriptions for everything, but he’d highly endorse these series and books for any young boys!