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Ten Great Sensory Smart Toys, Books, and Gifts


Many great Sensory Smart toys, books, and gifts are featured in my Sensory Smarts Shop, but I wanted to highlight here ten of my favorites.

1. Assorted Dress-up Hats

Kids with sensory issues might expand their willingness to try out different tactile sensations if they try on different hats that allow them to play different roles. A snug knit cap underneath might make it easier for them to try on a variety of hats, too. This imaginative play hat collection offers a lot of possibilities for play and tactile input.

2. Jigsaw Puzzles

Many kids with sensory processing issues are visually gifted, with good visual/spatial memory and even sometimes the ability to think in pictures. Consequently, many love puzzles. My son, whom you may remember from my coauthored award-winning book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, LOVED multisided puzzles like this box of 4 48-piece jigsaw puzzles from Melissa and Doug. If your child gets a little hyper when doing puzzles due to visual overstimulation, hold back some of the pieces and hand them to your child one at a time or three at a time--or do some calming activities, such as heavy work, before they settle down to do a puzzle. He freaked out Grandma with how quickly he could dump this puzzle box and assemble all 4, zip zip.

3. Where's Waldo? book series

Where's Waldo? books can be great fun for kids with sensory issues who like to try to spot Waldo in the crowd. Again, many of our kids are visually gifted and love visual challenges like the ones offered by Where's Waldo?

4. Thomas the Tank Engine wooden railroad set

Thomas the Tank Engine toys are a great way to help your child move from cause-and-effect, parallel play to imaginative, cooperative play. First, they push the engines along the track. Then, you can teach them to animate engines and cars and have them talk to each other. This starter set can be added to, and the Thomas episodes (which you can stream now) and books (available in libraries) can help your child engage with this toy. We have many marvelous of my son playing with his Thomas the Tank Engine trains!--Nancy

5. Little Tikes trampoline

Mini trampolines, also known as rebounders, can be excellent toys for kids with sensory processing issues. I especially like this one because it's round (the safest shape--skip the squares) and has handles for little jumpers. I found my son liked to bounce on his mini tramp for fun but also when reciting math facts or spelling out his spelling words, telling me it helped him focus.

6. PlayDoh Fun Factory

A starter set for playing with PlayDoh brand modeling compound, this classic, the PlayDoh Fun Factory, is a low-cost sensory diet tool, too, giving kids tactile (touch), olfactory (smell), and proprioceptive input (pushing down the lever to squeeze out the dough). And good news! You can now also buy gluten-free, soy-free dough to use in toys such as this one.

7. Melissa & Doug Wooden Cooktop Set

This Wooden Cooktop Set was one of my son's favorite imaginative toys when he was a preschooler. I found it easy to talk to him about the sequence of cooking as I demonstrated how to imagine he was a chef. Imaginative play is often delayed in kids with sensory processing disorder, as we discussed in Raising a Sensory Smart Child, and toys that you can use to help them develop imaginative play skills and play collaboratively rather than side-by-side ("parallel play") can be very helpful.

8. Rush Hour Logic Game

Rush Hour challenges kids to use their visual skills to develop logic skills. With cards that show how to set up the vehicles and illustrating a position you want to move them into, Rush Hour will appeal to many kids with have visual processing differences.

9. Chew Brick Necklace

Oral sensory seeking necklaces and bracelets have come a long way since Raising a Sensory Smart Child was first published, and your oral sensory seeker may especially appreciate this Chew Brick Necklace that is reminiscent of Lego building blocks.

10. Indoor Hopscotch

Hopscotch outdoors on a hopscotch layout drawn with sidewalk chalk is great, but when your child is inside, she or he can have fun with this colorful hopscotch carpet, playing a game that builds motor planning skills (those are a challenge for kids with developmental apraxia) and balancing skills (so common in kids with sensory issues).

For more ideas, see my Sensory Smart Shop.

And if you'd like to know more about kids with sensory issues and their play preferences, do check out the award-winning book coauthored by me and Lindsey Biel, OTR/L Raising a Sensory Smart Child.

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