With the holiday season fast approaching, everyone is scrambling to purchase the perfect present. But fret not! Fun and education can mix and not break the bank. Here are some fantastic ideas courtesy of my years of experience in schools and private practices along with some ideas from Terri Mauro, I Love That Max, and Parenting.com. And remember, if all else fails, you can just go with the cardboard box option, very affordable, simple and clearly effective.
1. Go Away Big Green Monster ($16.95 Lakeshore) by Ed Emberly. This story is a gem. It can (and should) be purchased with the felt puppet accompaniment, which, along with the repetitive nature of the story, provides for optimal engagement with young children. It's great for kids who are first learning colors and numbers, as well as for those who are still getting over their fears of monsters and the dark.
2. Crayola Color Wonder ($19.99 Crayola.com) I love Crayola's line of mess-free paint and markers. Going into other people's home for private therapy over the years, I've always aimed to leave their abodes in the same state as I entered them, which isn't an easy promise when working with children and traditional crafts. Color Wonder is the perfect solution. If a child accidentally draws on the table, wall or floor, it's no big deal -- the color only reveals itself on Color Wonder paper. On all other surfaces, Color Wonder makers and paints do not show up. Talk about wonderful.
3. Book Creator App for iPad (4.99 Red Jumper Studio) There are so many great apps available that is difficult to choose just one, but Red Jumper Studio's Book Creator App is awesome. This app targets a whole host of functional language skills while allowing kids to tap into their creative sides. Work on sequencing, answering and asking questions, inferencing and predicting and recalling information, all while creating relevant stories using a variety of colors, fonts, images and music -- all from your own library! Share stories with parents, grandparents, teachers and friends.
4. Elefun ($19.99 Toys R Us) Kids just light up with excitement playing this game. Turn on the elephant trunk motor and watch as the butterflies scatter about the room. Try and catch as many butterflies as possible before they hit the floor! While the game can get a bit messy with all those butterflies, this is a perfect opportunity to teach the little ones about cleaning up and organization.
5. Cranium Hullabaloo ($35.75 Amazon.com) This game is no longer being sold in stores (though you can find it on Amazon), but I chose to include it on the list because it's just fantastic -- and maybe those guys over at Cranium will decide to bring it back into the rotation. Hullaboo is a game about listening, following directions, moving and grooving, and most important, having fun. Targeting receptive language skills is great -- targeting receptive language skills while getting your heart pumping is even better!
6. Pictureka (15.79 Target.com) Pictureka is a great game that relies on visual skills, categorization and description to beat opponents. Players are given a set time to find a number of things that can swim, for example, letters or things that make noise. Beat your opponents by finding targets more quickly and earning more cards. The game is fast-paced and loads of fun.
7. Large Shapes Jumbo Knob Puzzle ($19.99 Melissa & Doug) I am a huge fan of anything Melissa & Doug. Whether, it's puzzles, block, or playsets, Melissa & Doug knock it out of the park every time with fun, educational and engaging toys. The jumbo knob puzzles, which come in shapes, farm animals, fruit, garden and so many more -- target gross motor functions, and help kids learn colors, shapes and counting.
8. Hedbanz ($15.25, Amazon) Hedbanz is great for small groups and families. Work on asking and answering questions, deductive reasoning, recall and comprehension skills and critical thinking skills. Figure out what picture is on your headband by asking questions and recalling the information from other players.
9. Nickelodeon Floam Factory ($21.95, barnesandnoble.com) For children with sensory integration impairments, squishy, moldable Floam is fun and easy to clean. It allows for children to be creative while getting the sensory input they are seeking. For even more sensory input, hide smaller toys within the Floam to play a hide-and-seek game.
10. Mr. Potato Head ($19.99, Playskool) A true classic never goes out of style. Mr. P has always been a speech and language staple, as it taps into functional language through play. You can work on following directions, labeling and identifying body parts, turn taking and pretend play all with a toy that has been in play since 1952.