5 Therapeutic Toys for Special Needs Children

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In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I always talk to the kids’ therapists and try to get some gift ideas.  I try to find out what equipment they are working on, or will be using soon, and choose something that goes under the tree based on our discussions.   While sometimes there are bigger, more therapy-specific items, often we are able to come up with a list of things that look like fun waiting to be opened and help us reach therapy goals.  These are some favorites of both therapist and patient.

1.  Balls

These come in all sizes – from a small tennis ball to oversized.  Soccer balls are great for kicking and throwing for the bigger kids; for the preschool set, a larger “playground” ball is more versatile (and less painful when the catcher misses). Exercise balls are great, too – they double as chairs and help kids work on strengthening their core, and function as a piece of exercise equipment for the family.  (Most kids love when parents try to do their exercises – most are eager to show you how to do it “just right.”) Foam “Nerf” style balls are good for younger ones, and “stress balls” provide squishy sensory play.

If you can play outside during the winter, a T-ball or basketball set is a great idea.  They help with gross motor movement as well as eye and hand coordination.  (Even if you can’t play outside, it’s still a great idea, but torture sitting to the side waiting for spring training!)

2.  Legos and Duplos

These are probably one of the most useful toys.  They encourage both creativity and direction following when building, fine motor skills to put together and take apart.  In our house, they also double as fidgets – neither of my big boys leaves the house without a pocket full of Legos.  Even if they aren’t really building anything, just putting together, taking apart, or manipulating them in their hands helps them to focus, and the connector bumps and grooves help provide sensory input.

Our experience says try to stick to the age on the box.   If it says “Ages 8+” odds are very good putting it together like the picture on the box is going to be an exercise in frustration for a kindergartener.   Around here, we like the big bin of Legos and Duplos that isn’t part of a set but just pieces.

3.  Moving Mats

Ok, Moving Mats aren’t really a “toy” in the traditional sense.  But I’ve included them because they are so versatile.  They are a set of multicolored slip-resistant mats, with pre-printed exercise images on one side.  They range from really active movements like jumping jacks to a quieter “sit and reach your toes.”  This is one of our favorite edu-thera-fun products.  (And if that’s not a word, it is now!)

Some ways you can use these:

-part of an “obstacle” circuit

-flip over and use “blank side” for jumping/landing obstacles and targets

-stagger and arrange as a gait trainer

-arrange into a hopscotch board

4.  Arts and craft supplies

Anything and everything goes here!  From crayons and paintbrushes to work on hand-eye coordination, bottles of glue to squeeze, and lots of imagination to use, the sky is the limit here.  Some beyond-the-crayons ideas:

-colored tissue paper

-Bingo ink-dauber style markers

-paints with glitter mixed in (the washable kind is super!)

-fat quarter or fabric remnants (and a pair of for-fabric-only scissors; even safety scissors will cut fabric if they’re kept dedicated to the task and not used for paper)

-plastic jewels and googley eyes

-craft scissors and paper punches that do fancy shapes

If you have an emerging baker, check the cake decorating aisle for food-safe markers, fondant and cutters, and other creative ideas.

5. A Water Experience

Cranky kid? Just add water.  Depending on the age of the child, your gift could be as simple as a set of brightly colored (plastic or silicone) nesting measuring cups and a large storage tote to play with water in, or as grown up as bath gel and a set of loofah gloves.  For the toddler set, there are tons of character-themed playsets out there, but another place to look for items is the kitchen section of a mega-store where you’ll find themed cups and containers.  For an older child, how about giving the ingredients to make bath bombs – even boys get a kick out of watching them fizz! (Making them provides some nice messy sensory play, too.)

I hope this gives you some ideas for gifts for fun things that do double duty as therapy play!  There’s lots of expensive therapy gear out there, but for a present it’s nice to have something that looks like oodles of fun and doesn’t break the bank — even if it does sneak in some work!

This post is part of the 25 Frugal Days of Christmas and is written by Meg from Adventures with Jude.

About Meg:

Meg is a city girl from Philadelphia transplanted to a 19-acre farm in the Garden State of New Jersey. She started college wanting to be a pediatrician, but ultimately graduated with a BA in theater, a minor in English, and her best friend and husband, Neal. The Lord has a strange way of arranging life – they have five children, each with multiple medical issues that stump even their wicked-genius doctors, so Meg has learned more about medicine than she ever expected! Because of her children’s needs, she is passionate about educating people about mental health and food allergies. She homeschools three children between the pick up and drop off for two others, and blogs about their adventures at Adventures with Jude. You can also find her at Facebook and  Twitter, and her favorite social media site, Pinterest.

25 Frugal Days of Christmas at Frugal Homeschool Family

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Are you looking for more frugal Christmas ideas? Check out the other posts in this series:

Day 1: Create Your Own Photo Christmas Cards with free templates and tutorial
Day 2: Making Fun and Affordable Christmas Gifts
Day 3: How to Have a $5 Christmas
Day 4: Cookies in a Jar: a Frugal Christmas Recipe Round up with FREE printable gift tags
Day 5: Snowflake Card Craft for Kids
Day 6: DIY Snowman Ornament
Day 7: Printable Handmade with Love Gift Tags
Day 8: Frugal Family Traditions
Day 9: Bringing the 12 Days of Christmas to Life for your Spouse
Day 10: A Frugal Family Christmas Tradition
Day11: Frugal Gift Idea: DIY Christmas Crackers
Day 12: 6 Ways to Repurpose Kids Art for Christmas
Day 13: Repurposed, Reused, Free and Frugal Christmas Decor
Day 14: Frugal Gift Idea: Favorite Things Memory Box
Day 15: Frugal Family Christmas Tradition Ideas
Day 16: Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping Ideas
Day 17: Frugal Christmas Ornament for Kids
Day 18: Christmas Lights Drive {with printable awards}
Day 19: Frugal Gift Idea: Food!
Day 20: 4 DIY Christmas Crafts/Decorations
Day 21: Homemade Peppermint Scented Playdough

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Hi, there! I’m Heather Bowen, and I am so glad you’re here.

My passion lies in helping homeschool moms balance marriage, motherhood, homemaking, and homeschooling all while remaining sane!

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