Playtime isn’t just about entertainment for kiddos—it’s also a great way for children of all abilities to develop a wide range of skills. For kids with diverse needs, including autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, playing with sensory toys, emotional development toys and toys to help with motor skills can be a great way to learn.
We know it can be tough to choose the right skill-building toys for your preschooler or kindergartner, so that’s why we’ve curated a list of 24 toys to help save you time. These toys were chosen with input from Ashley Simmons, a pediatric occupational therapist with New Horizons Rehab in Listowel and Kincardine, Ont., and Hina Mahmood, senior occupational therapist at the Down Syndrome Resource Foundation in Burnaby, B.C. Read on to discover toys to help your child with social skills, cognitive skills, physical skills and more!
Open-ended reciprocal play can encourage kids to communicate. Build something together with these colourful plastic bristle and wooden blocks, and see if your little one can make sounds for the barnyard animals. Bonus: The storage bucket makes it easy to travel with.
In addition to encouraging coordination skills, this toy vehicle (which features sounds and music, and comes with batteries!) provides a great way to work on language skills with your child while interacting during play. You can talk to your child about where to place the green car, for example.
Use this set of cute wooden instruments (which comes with a handy storage crate) to make music with your child. “The most important thing is that parents and caregivers engage with kids in play,” says Mahmood. “It will help them develop their social and communication skills.”
“Fidget toys can be helpful for kids who are feeling anxious, especially during times of transition such as leaving for daycare or getting ready for bed,” Simmons says. This set provides a variety of tactile, sensory experiences to help soothe a child who may be feeling overwhelmed.
Simmons uses stuffed animals as a tool to work on calming emotions. “They can be comforting and can also be used as a breathing buddy by placing them on the tummy while lying down and taking some deep breaths,” she says. “The child can watch the toy rise and lower with their breaths.”
Sensory play (which helps kids learn to process objects and environments using touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell, balance and motion) is very important for all toddlers and preschoolers, says Simmons. Sensory blocks like these textured ones encourage tactile discovery.
“Anything that involves using the hands to do a skill will help kids develop the coordination and strength needed for daily tasks like eating with utensils, handwriting and doing up fasteners on clothing,” Simmons says. Colouring is an easy way to do that and this kit comes with everything they need to get started.
This unique toy was designed specifically to help develop fine motor skills. Catching and pulling the worms from the “dirt” helps preschoolers develop hand strength and coordination—and it’s super fun, too!
Building sets like this one offer a fun way to work on fine motor skills, Simmons says. Lego Duplo is a great choice for little kids or bigger kids who are struggling with fine motor skills since the larger pieces are easier to manipulate than regular Lego.
“It’s important to do activities that provide a little bit of challenge to encourage skill development, but that also allow a child to be successful enough to have fun,” says Simmons. Younger kids typically do better playing catch with a large, soft ball like this one.