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Dr. Emily's Gift Guide: 20 Favorite Things From My Playroom!

It's the season of giving! If you're wanting to add some social-emotional and/or sensory items to your child's wish list, here is my ultimate list!

In my psychology practice, I have accumulated lots of toys over the years. Some toys and games are collecting dust, while others are used multiple times a day. Every child I work with has some need to be supported due to anxiety, sensory concerns, a high activity level, and/or distractibility. These are all the things my clients come back to again and again asking, "Hey! Can we play with that?" Here, I explain why my clients love these items (and why I love them, too!)

**I get no compensation for highlighting any of these products. They are simply my clients' favorite things, kid-tested, kid-approved, kid-asked for and I want everyone to benefit!**

Reading/Sensory Corner Items:

1. Memory Foam Bean Bags

Why kids love this: It's comfy!

Why I love this: I have two bean bags in the reading corner of my playroom. This is a great place to read a book together or just talk. Kids love settling in, sometimes with a weighted blanket on their lap, and playing with the sequin pillows. I find that kids are more willing to settle in to listen to a story or talking when their body is comfy.

2. Sequin Pillows

Why kids love this: It's fun!

Why I love this: With young children, we practice social reciprocity simply by taking turns changing the colors of the pillow in a back-and-forth rhythm. With older children who might be reluctant to talk, we write messages to each other. Many children just love touching these pillows while we read or talk.

3. Weighted Blankets

Why kids love this: It's comfy!

Why I love this: Weighted blankets keep kids grounded in their space, often in my bean bags, which brings them a sense of calm and increases their attention to what we are reading or talking about.

More Sensory Items:

4. Body Sock

Why kids love this: It's fun!

Why I love this: Children who seek more sensory input than they get from their daily movement through the world are often the ones who are running, crashing, and jumping at home, school, and in the community. This Lycra body sock gives kids sensory input while talking about a range of topics in therapy. Make sure to get a snug fit to feel the input!

5. Tunnel

Why kids love this: It's fun! (It also blocks out the world)

Why I love this: Those who know me well, know that I love to be silly in play and I also like to challenge kids solve problems. This tunnel is fun to crawl through but it's also fun to get "stuck" in so we have to figure out how to get me out of it. Or, if a child is overwhelmed by their day, resting in the tunnel can be a chance to block out the world and reset. Tunnels are also great for obstacle courses and getting characters and animals in and out of all kinds of problematic situations.

6. Teeter Popper

Why kids love this: It's a seat that you're SUPPOSED to wiggle in!

Why I love this: Children are just happier when they are moving. Many of my clients, preschool on up through middle school age, choose to rock around on the teeter popper while we talk about a variety of topics in therapy.


7. Kids On Stage

Why kids love this: It's fun!

Why I love this: Many children I work with are fluent communicators but struggle to notice the nonverbal language of playmates and figuring out what is expected of them without asking. This is the most simple charades game I have found and even pre-school children can play. Kids on Stage is still fun for older elementary-aged kids who might have shorter attention spans or difficulty with nonverbal cues.

8. Sorry!

Why kids love this: It's fun! (and kids love sending me back to Start)

Why I love this: I can figure out a lot about a child's turn-taking skills, impulse control, and emotional regulation when faced with a setback from this game. Sorry! can give children some big feelings, so we work through all of the feelings as we play.

9. Hedbanz Junior

Why kids love this: It's fun! (and kids love watching me or their parent not being able to see the card on their head)

Why I love this: In order to play this game, players have to look up at each other's forehead, which I find a natural way to practice noticing facial expressions while turn-taking. The "Junior" version of this game comes with game cards where players cover up questions they have already asked so it's perfect for kids with a weak working memory or short attention span.


10. Chomping Crocodile

Why kids love this: (Ok, some don't, especially if they startle easily, so take caution). If they love being startled, it's fun!

Why I love this: This crocodile chomps randomly when you push down its teeth. It startles me EVERY TIME and kids love watching me jump. I use this as a teaching opportunity to show that this plastic crocodile cannot really hurt me, but my brain is tricked into thinking that I'm in danger. But, I'm not! We then are able to talk about other situations in kids lives' that trick them into feeling in danger, but they are actually safe (e.g, monsters in the closet).

11. Wooden Car Ramp

Why kids love this: Young kids love this thing! It's fun!

Why I love this: This toy is repetitive so I can build a rhythm of play with young children. We can practice taking turns, asking for cars, and problem solving what to do when cars get stuck between the ramps.

12. Magna-tiles

Why kids love these: So fun!

Why I love these: Magna-tiles are very satisfying to put together as the click right in place, but they can be quite frustrating at times if the weight distribution is off. This creates opportunities for problem-solving and teamwork with usually a high motivation to figure it out!

13. Plush Dog Puppet

Why kids love this: It's snuggly!

Why I love this: This is not your average puppet. This puppy is also a stuffed animal and is super soft. It's a puppet too, so he can become a part of play and has exhibited all kinds of behaviors that clients and I have had to problem-solved together.

14. Bubbles

Why kids love bubbles: They're fun!

Why I love these: NEVER underestimate the power of bubbles. Kids LOVE bubbles. Young children can work on taking turns, asking for more, and feeling frustrated and trying again when that bubble blower just doesn't work right.

15. Balloons

Why kids love balloons: Similar to bubbles, they're fun!

Why I love balloons: Kids needs adult help to blow up balloons so we work on asking for help and coming up with a plan. Have you ever let go of a balloon filled with air. Try it and watch your child's eyes light up! (Take caution for those who startle easily).


16. Hoberman Sphere