Christmas Gifts that Promote Child Development

How does one select a good gift for a child or young adult with a disability? While toy stores abound with choices, what might be the best one?

Photo Credit: SimplyPanda –

First, it’s important to remember the child’s interests and joys. While the child may need practice in fine motor skills, embedding that task in a topic or activity the child LOVES to do might have a greater impact on the child. For example, a child who loves trains may be much more likely to use a particular coloring book if it’s focused on Thomas the Tank Engine. A child who enjoys music may want to practice finger strengthening to songs and fingerplays with motions and movements.

Secondly, don’t automatically assume technology is the best choice. While that is certainly a great tool, a child’s hands will grow stronger by squishing play dough than by moving a computer mouse. A child will best learn language and social skills by playing an actual game of Candyland or Connect 4 at the kitchen table as opposed to downloading it on the computer.

Also, check with the staff at the school your child attends. Are there activities or toys that work well with the child in that environment? They may have some great and specific suggestions for you.

Finally, there are always two parts to giving a child a new item. First, the child opens the gift, and second there is some kind of training or teaching that occurs to allow the child to use the gift. So often we put something in the hands of a child and expect the child to automatically know how to use it. Plan to have a time to work and play with the child using the toy or activity together. After all, time spent together is always the best gift a child can receive! Use the new gift as an excuse to do that together.

So, get a picture of the child’s gift and interest areas as well as areas of need in your head and see if any of these suggestions might fit the general principals mentioned above…

 Fine Motor: 

Photo Credit: Wickenden –

–  Great stocking stuffers might be vibrating pens, playdough or clay, new crayons or pencils, craft items (like beads for stringing), dot paints, Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners, or craft kits appropriate to the child’s level.

–   Larger items could include pegboards, building blocks, Lego kits, puzzles, items for sorting, Lite Brite, finger cymbals, Operation, Tiddlywinks, Barrel of Monkeys, and toys with switches or push button activation.

–   For older children, consider actual toolbox or cooking kits that allow individuals to measure, mix, stir, hammer, sprinkle, or knead.

–   Apps like DoodleBuddy allow kids at any age to write, paint, draw, and stamp on colorful backgrounds.

Reading Development:

–   For children who are beginning readers, check out patterned books like Goodnight Moon and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Patterns allow children to predict and soon “read along” with you.

–   To increase language development as well as rhyming skills, try books that are songs such as The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and Old MacDonald, which encourage participation. Nursery Rhyme books and Dr. Seuss teach rhyming. Some children may also enjoy recordings of favorite books or books featuring an area of interest.

–   Refrigerator letter magnets are very helpful for children! Using them on a cookie sheet works well too.

–   Magna Doodles are wonderful ways to practice words and drawings.

–   Apps like Read2Go and GoRead highlight narrated words. ReadingRocket has a great list of comprehension apps to check out.

–   For more capable readers, MadLibs, Balderdash, Banana-Grams and a subscription to an age-appropriate magazine may be a terrific choice.

Math Development:

Family Board Game
Photo credit: FamilyTravelCK –

–   Counting games abound. Here are some favorites: Hi Ho Cheerio, Chutes and Ladders, Yahtzee, Racko, Uno, Playing cards for Crazy 8s and War, Connect 4, Rummikub, Dominoes, Life, Monopoly, or any other game requiring counting and moving.  Match the math required to the skill level of the child.

–   Consider real life math applications such as measuring tools, a calculator, a bank account to begin managing money, clocks or watches, and personal calendars and planners.

–    Apps like Yodel-Oh! Math Mountain and Dragon Box provide fun games, while also developing math skills.

Language (Speech) Development:

–    Stocking stuffers might include bubbles, special straws, or a gift card for really thick shakes at a local fast food restaurant.

–    CDs and DVDs that require movement allow children to sing and move to a children’s worship or music group can be a great way to learn new words while getting some movement at the same time.

–    Puppets and stuffed animals are also a great way to encourage language skills.

–    Consider a gift of a “field trip” to someplace special so that you can talk about it before you go, talk while you are there, and look at the photos you took while visiting and talk about it when you get home.

–    Think about a digital camera so that the child can take pictures of many special items and then organize the pictures in books to show and tell to others.

–    A microphone or karaoke machine also encourages speech.

–    Outburst, Catchphrase, and Apples to Apples are terrific games to encourage speech and language development.

Gross Motor Development:

Dress Up
Photo Credit: Phil41Dean –

–   Balls, jump ropes, walking stilt cups, a spooner-board, dress-up clothes (with fasteners to practice snapping, zipping, and buttons), indoor golf or hockey games, ring toss games, punching  bags, toss and catch games, a mini-trampoline, scooter, indoor exercise bike, treadmill or Wii Fit are all wonderful ideas.

Other Resources to Explore:

–  Marbles – The Brain Store has some wonderful games, software, puzzles, books and more for developing critical thinking, memory, coordination, visual perception and word skills.

–  Our friend, Noah’s Dad put together a list of Fisher-Price toys to help a baby with Down syndrome develop.

–  Be sure to check out the comprehensive eBook from Friendship Circle on great toys for children with special needs.


This list was compiled by your friends at All Belong, a faith-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the development of people with all levels of abilities to live as active, integrated members of their communities. If you found these ideas helpful, check out our Holiday Guide for Supporting Persons with Disabilities and a fun activity for sharing the birth of Jesus with friends with disabilities. 


Supporting Persons with Disabilities through the Holidays | Making Us Whole

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