Christmas Gift Guide

by Petra Ecclestone

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At Petra’s Place we’re always keen to let you know about useful and fun things for your children to enjoy so here’s a seasonal guide from our therapists and staff.

General aspects to consider when buying gifts for your young child this Christmas:

• Do not limit your gift list to things that you already know your child enjoys playing with. Presenting new toys and having them around are great ways to stimulate your child’s development (thinking up to 6 months ahead from where your child is developmentally at).

• Construction toys provides opportunity for joint collaboration, incidental destruction, purposeful destruction and anticipation as well as motor planning, gross and fine motor skill development. It is easy to include more than one child with this play and it can take up several hours of a day!

• Give your child your presence as a present, each day! Turn off the television/tablet, put away your phone, forget about the daily chores, and show your child that this 10min/20min/30min are for you and him/her only! Follow your child’s lead, be fascinated by what interests them, give them cuddles and connect during this special time of the year.

• Children do not mind where a gift come from. You can find a lot of games/toys on E-bay, and often other parents will group parts together which you would buy individually in the shops, saving you not only some money, but also time and thinking space of what to add to a gift to make it ‘perfect’.


Developmentally informed gifts:

• Doll and tea set: Supports pretend play, developing fine motor skills by dressing the doll, developing gross motor skills by pouring from a teapot which needs good shoulder stability and elbow control, supporting language development by talking to the dolls, supporting engagement with peers and adults to include them in play, supports turn taking skills, etc. 

• Cake set (you get good quality Melissa and Doug ones): Supports pretend play, fine motor skills such as hand-eye coordination, tool manipulation to ‘cut’ the cake with a plastic knife and lifting it into a plate, cognitive skills and learning such as counting the pieces/discussing the colours and shapes. 

• Easel or vertical surface (painting an ‘easel’ with blackboard paint on a wall for them to work against): Working against a vertical surface promotes excellent opportunity for pre-writing skills such as building shoulder stability, crossing the midline using large movements, encouraging eye movements across larger planes and expressing emotions/feelings and creativity on a larger surface. 

• Jumbo chalk, large egg crayons or paintbrushes: Using tools with larger grips are perfect for tiny hands. Children’s hands are not fully developed yet and is more ‘unstable’. Tool manipulation with smaller objects such as a pencil is thus very difficult to control and may cause them to fatigue faster and move away from an enjoyable activity. Building fine motor strength and endurance by giving them larger tools to use are fantastic for their development!

• Trampoline: A small one with a bar to hold onto or a larger one with a safety net for outside. Especially on days when outside playtime may be limited (the reasons may be endless!), children may become frustrated and agitated because their movement systems are not getting enough stimulation. A trampoline at home will definitely help. 

• Tent/TP: This is again great for pretend play, but can also be useful for a child who is sensitive and or overstimulated by all the sensory input. Having a quiet, darker space with less sensory input to have a cuddle with an adult while regrouping can be meltdown preventer or help to calm down after a meltdown. 

• Weighted soft toys: The tactile input together with the weight which provides deep pressure and proprioceptive input while the child carries it around makes a great companion to the tent/TP, shops or other outings. Using soft toys during play, you can include emotional awareness and discuss how they feel about upcoming events, what they liked/disliked during outings, etc. 

• Megablox constructions: Easy to manipulate for the younger child, learning about colours and shapes, endless play ideas! 

• Duplo: An old-time winner that never grows old. Promoting ideation, hand-eye coordination, colour matching and recognition and engagement with others. 

• Playmobil sets: There are so many options to choose from, from the Princess starter set, Take Along Farm Play Set, Family Fun Zoo Set,  Garages, and even Christmas themed ones. Let your child explore and engage with the play set and join in once they give you an invitation! Be active in your waiting! 

• Sylvanian families: To support your child’s imagination, emotional processing while giving them the chance to use their fine motor skills while they are at it.

The Author

Petra Ecclestone is a Philanthropist and mother of four. She is founder and Director of the Petra Eccleston Foundation, providing services and support for young children with suspected or diagnosed autism and their families.

Copyright © 2021 The Brightest Star. Content curated by Petra Ecclestone