Holiday Tips

Toy Takeover 2021 – Supporting Local and Sharing Fantastic Toys That Your Child Will Love
Toy Takeover 2021 – Supporting Local and Sharing Fantastic Toys That Your Child Will Love 1080 1080 PTN Chicago

Toy Takeover is FINALLY here, and we’re ready to get the party started! Every year, we search near and far for creative toy ideas that your kiddos are sure to love. Each toy we’ve selected this year is a whole lot of fun to play with, works on supporting your child’s development, and can be purchased at local Chicago toy stores!

Our local businesses have been struggling to make ends meet since the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s important to support these stores so that they can continue to be a part of our community for years to come. This year, we’re featuring these 4 amazing local stores – Building Blocks, Cat & Mouse, Play, and Timeless Toys. So, if you see a toy on the list that you want to purchase, simply click on the link to be directed to one of these 4 businesses ’ websites. You’ll feel great knowing that you’re supporting local while also getting your little one a fantastic developmental toy. 

With that said, and without further ado, here’s our 2021 Toy Takeover list:

Baby Paper

The first toy to make our list this year is simple and all about sensory exploration for infants. The colorful crinkly cloth paper helps babies with their isolated finger movement, early grasping skills, as well as their midline orientation. Our favorite part about this toy is that it can be brought with you anywhere to keep your kiddos entertained, and it’s washable!


The next toy on our list is a brand new sensory development ball for infants. The OgoBolli has a unique design that’s easy to hold and manipulate, and it helps work on grasping, hand-eye coordination, and fine-motor skills. OgoBolli comes in multiple colors, is dishwasher safe, and is a whole lot of fun for your little ones.

Chutes and Ladders

This classic children’s board game is sure to be a hit with your whole family. Chutes and Ladders is the perfect first board game to help with early turn-taking and listening skills. Take turns spinning the wheel to see how many spaces you’ll move, try to climb the ladders to get further in the game, and watch out for the chutes to avoid being sent back down the board!

Pop Toobs

Bend, snap, and connect with Pop Toobs! Your little one can move and expand the tubes to 4 times their original length and connect the tubes with other Pop Toobs to make awesome creations! This colorful and unique toy works on hand strength and dexterity and will provide hours of entertainment for your little ones.

Shape Sorter

This last toy is a must-have for infants and toddlers. Shape sorters are perfect for matching, sorting, counting activities, and so much more. You can start by taking the top off of the box and letting your little one put the shapes in, and then dump them out. Have your child play with this toy while standing to help them improve their balance and practice stopping down to pick up the shapes.

Happy holidays from our entire Pediatric Therapy Network team! To see more toys on our Toy Takeover list, be sure to sign up for our newsletter and follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest). All month long, we will be sharing even more great toy suggestions as well as fun tips, activities, resources, and more!

Toy Takeover 2019 – 3 Toy Ideas to Help Your Little One Learn and Grow
Toy Takeover 2019 – 3 Toy Ideas to Help Your Little One Learn and Grow 1080 1080 PTN Chicago

Every December, we like to gather up all the best toys we’ve come across throughout the year and share them with you. This year, we’ve got three top picks that are all deceptively simple, but will deliver hours of fun. Best of all, these toys will help your children with their speech, occupational, and physical therapy goals.

Without further ado, here are the developmental toys that we recommend this holiday season:

Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set

This toy is a great choice for a stocking stuffer. The four different tools that come in the pack all help build fine motor skills while working different muscles. They’re also great for developing those all-important skills of concentration and patience. Use these tools outside in the sand, as part of your child’s imaginary restaurant, or use them to play doctor – the creative possibilities are endless! In addition to this set, you could also invest in some children’s scissors or eye droppers for color mixing games and art projects. This toy is ideal for ages three and up.

Water Beads + Kinetic Sand

You may have already discovered water beads or Kinetic Sand – but you have tried combining the two? 

Kinetic Sand is an ingenious material that’s wonderful to touch, manipulate, and build with. It lets children (and parents) explore their creativity while enjoying the calming sensation of the sand and working on those fine motor skills.

Water beads are an ingenious toy that come as tiny little beads (this pack has 50,000 of them) and when you place them in water, they grow to the size of marbles. Filling a sensory bin with these is a great way to have some fun, and you can even combine these beads with Kinetic Sand. Use them to add some color, variety, or finishing touches to the things you build, or break out the tool set you purchased above and search for water beads hidden in the sand like buried treasure. This toy is great for ages three and up.

Alphabet Nesting and Stacking Blocks

This toy is a classic, and one that frequently gets overlooked. But stacking blocks is always a favorite activity of young children. We particularly like this set from Melissa & Doug, but you can find nesting and stacking toys basically anywhere. These ones come in a nice little carrying case, have a sturdy cardboard construction, include the alphabet printed on the sides, and stack up to three feet high. They’re a great toy for working on gross motor skills such as balance, coordination, standing, and squatting while also practicing letters and sounds. This toy is great for ages zero and up.

This is just the beginning of our recommendations this season. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter this month for another toy tip, and also follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) – we’ll be sharing five more suggestions throughout the month!

Amazing Children to Inspire You This Holiday Season
Amazing Children to Inspire You This Holiday Season 1080 1080 PTN Chicago

As we think about the things that we’re grateful for this holiday season, let’s all remember to be grateful for the things that make us different – the things that make us special. 

One of the best parts of the work we do is meeting children who are extraordinary in so many ways. They see the world differently, approach it with a completely unique point of view, and they all have something to teach us about what we take for granted in our lives.

With that in mind, we wanted to share a few motivational stories that have inspired us. Just try watching these amazing kids (and one adult) without smiling.

Ezra was born with just one finger on his left hand and a leg that curved inward. Shortly after he was born, the doctor told his parents that his leg would need to be amputated. Eventually Ezra did lose his leg, and the doctors were able to transplant his big toe from his amputated foot onto his left hand. 

Now Ezra is 12, and with the help of a prosthetic leg, he takes great joy in sports and is also a motivational speaker. In fact, he’s so good at inspiring others that he was brought into the Golden State Warriors’ locker room to give his motivational speech to the team – what an amazing young man!

We just love this video of pairs of children being asked what makes them different. As an adult, you’ll probably visually spot all sorts of differences between the children without even thinking about it, but as you’ll see, the children see things a bit differently.

This video has been around for a long time, but it’s worth revisiting. Here we get a glimpse of little Jessica pumping herself up in the mirror with a daily affirmation about all the things she loves in her life and, basically, how she’s going to go out and crush it. You go, Jessica!

This amazing teacher has a wonderful message that we as parents, therapists, and friends can all learn from – the basis of learning is relationships. Children, she says, do not learn from people who they don’t like. In order for children to learn and grow, they need to know that we believe they can learn and grow, that we see their potential. Children also need to know that we’re proud of them and we like them for who they are right now.

holiday survival tips for kids
6 Tips to Help You and Your Special Needs Child Through the Holidays
6 Tips to Help You and Your Special Needs Child Through the Holidays 1000 1000 PTN Chicago

Is it just us, or has Halloween become a bigger deal in recent years? We used to think of the holiday season as starting in November with the lead up to Thanksgiving, but now, the holiday season very much begins even before October, which makes it a very long and sometimes very challenging time of year – especially for children with special needs and their families.

While the holidays can and should be a lot of fun, they can also be overwhelming, stressful, and marked by lots of unfamiliar faces, strange foods, and disruptions in the regular routine. In an effort to help make this holiday season more enjoyable for everyone in your family, here are our top tips to help both you and your little ones through the holiday season.

1. Take the pressure off.

Perhaps our most important piece of advice is to go easy on yourself this holiday season. You may love setting the perfect Thanksgiving table or having every last family member over to your house for Christmas, but there’s just no need to put all of that pressure on yourself and your family. It’s ok to cut a few corners and let other people help you. When you reduce your stress levels, that gives you more time and energy to spend with your kids. And kids can definitely sense our stress, so if you’re relaxed, that will help them relax, too.

2. Prepare your friends and family.

If your little one doesn’t like to be touched, take the time to send a gentle reminder to any visitors before they arrive. You can include tips on ways to greet your child that she’ll appreciate, such as a high five or a fist bump. You might also want to prep visitors on when your child might need some alone time or quiet time and ask them to leave their big dogs or loud party poppers at home this year.

3. Create a safe space.

If your child gets easily overwhelmed by too much noise or too many people, it’s important that you have a space in your home – or whatever house you visit – where they can go to get away from all the excitement if they need to. Make sure any other kids know to leave that space alone. You can also invest in some noise canceling headphones for your child so she can find some peace even in noisy groups or while out and about.

4. Prepare some calming activities.

Sometimes holidays involve long plane rides, sitting through class plays, church services – any number of sitting situations where your child is likely to get fidgety and bored. Plan ahead for these experiences by making a goodie bag of quiet activities for your child to enjoy. Some great, easy to pack options include stickers, an Etch-a-Sketch, Silly Putty, and favorite – or brand new – books with things to touch, things to look for, or flaps to lift.

5. Practice gift giving.

If your child doesn’t always do so well with giving or receiving presents, it can be very helpful to practice. You can wrap up an existing toy that’s been in the closet for a while to practice opening presents. You can also draw some cards with your child and then exchange them.

6. Remember to enjoy some intimate family time.

One way to help make the holidays special and less overwhelming for your child can be to find a new holiday tradition that you can enjoy with just your immediate family. For example, many railways do train rides with Santa during the holidays. Or you can keep it simple and take your child for a quiet night-time walk to look at all the decorated houses in December.

For more tips or advice about specific holiday events, feel free to give our office a call. Our therapists are always here to help.

Embrace the Holiday Fun with Play Therapy!
Embrace the Holiday Fun with Play Therapy! 1000 667 PTN Chicago

While we encourage at-home play therapy all year long, engaging your children in creative therapies during the holidays can be particularly fun and festive. Of course, we realize that the holidays come with their own sets of stressors and time constraints, so here are a few simple ideas to let you enjoy playful physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy with your little ones this holiday season without adding any more items to your shopping list.

  1. Singing holiday songs.

Christmas carols and holiday tunes are pretty much everywhere this month. Take the opportunity to mix up the usual songs that you sing with your child by adding in a few simple holiday favorites. Singing is great for building confidence and practicing better speech.

If your child prefers to stick to year-round classics like “The Wheels on the Bus,” try to add in some holiday fun by singing about the Santa on the bus or the menorah on the bus. Have fun thinking of different holiday objects that you can create verses about. This is a great way to practice critical thinking and creative decision making with your child.

  1. Play in the snow.

If you happen to live somewhere chilly, take the opportunity to enjoy fresh snowfalls with your little one. You can practice gross motor skills by packing snowballs and throwing them at (non-human) targets or by building a snowman. In warmer climates, you can jump in puddles after winter rainstorms.

Just remember to be cognizant of the needs and comfort of your child. Bundle them up in waterproof, comfortable clothes and don’t try to force them to engage in activities that “other kids” like. You’ll both have a much better time if you embrace the experience without expectations or a preset agenda.

  1. Make a holiday sensory bin.

Many unique textures are much more readily available during the holiday season for creating new sensory experiences. Search your box of decorations for materials like soft tinsel, curling ribbon, and wooly pretend snow.

  1. Decorate a gingerbread house.

This is a great way to practice fine motor skills and direction following. Depending upon the age of your child, you may want to build the actual house in advance to avoid frustration or waiting. Once the house is ready, your child can help you spread frosting, choose which candies to place where, and practice counting the candy already on the house.

As always, with each of these activities, the key is to have fun while working on important developmental skills.  We hope you enjoyed this little list of activities and, if you’re still looking for gift ideas, be sure to follow us on Facebook for our 2018 Toy Takeover.

Trick or Treating with Special Needs Children
Simple Tips for a Fun and Safe Halloween with Your Special Needs Child
Simple Tips for a Fun and Safe Halloween with Your Special Needs Child 1000 1000 Triston Kee

Halloween is a favorite holiday that only seems to be growing in popularity – where we live, it seems like just as many people decorate their homes for Halloween as for Christmas! But when you have a child with special needs, all the jumps and scares of October 31 can be more than a little overwhelming. If you’re worried about how your little one will handle trick-or-treating, or if you’ve had tough Halloweens in years past, here are a few tips that will hopefully make this holiday all “treat” and no “trick.”

Costume Tips

When selecting or making a costume for your child, consider their comfort and safety above all else. A lot of very cute costumes aren’t well made and use rough Velcro, poorly fitted elastic, sharp plastic, and/or cheap fabrics. If you have the time, consider putting together a costume out of clothes or fabrics that you already know your child likes. A scratchy tag or uncomfortable hat can make the anxiety of Halloween that much worse for a child with special needs.

Likewise, try to avoid costumes that use masks and dark colors. The brighter the costume, the safer your child will be while you walk around with them in your neighborhood. Maybe your little one would make a darling bumble bee or a beautiful, bright jack-o-lantern.

Trick-or-Treating Tips

If you decide to trick-or-treat around your neighborhood, there are a few different things that you can do to make the experience more enjoyable. First, go before dark. Crowds will be less intense, scary decorations will seem a lot less scary, and homeowners will be a lot more relaxed and accommodating.

You should also consider going out with at least one other adult and one other child, if possible. that way the other adult and child can approach doors first so that if anyone answers the door in a particularly frightening costume, or if they have a decoration that makes a scary noise, you’ll have a heads up and can skip that house or appropriately prepare your child for the experience.

You might also want to consider practicing the route with your child earlier in the week if you don’t go for walks often. And be aware that they may be perfectly happy going to just four or five houses to get the experience, especially if you have other activities planned at home.

Tips for Trick-or-Treating Alternatives

While the idea of not trick-or-treating may have broken your heart as a child, recognize that your own child may feel differently. He or she might have just as much fun enjoying an alternative Halloween experience.

For example, a lot of local libraries put on afternoon events on Halloween with craft making, carnival games, and story time. A special Halloween activity at the library or your local community center could be the perfect way to celebrate in a controlled, well-lit environment.

You could also consider putting on your own Halloween party with family members, friends from your neighborhood, or parents and kids from your child’s daycare or classroom, if they are old enough. This is obviously the option that takes the most work, but it also lets you control the environment and create an experience tailored to the needs of your child. Check out this blog for great tips on art projects that your child and his or her friends can enjoy together this Halloween.

For more tips specific to the unique needs of your child, feel free to give our office a call. We offer speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy in Chicago for all sorts of wonderful kids. We’d be happy to tell you more about what we do or answer any questions you may have.

Happy Halloween!

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