The Importance of Play and Gift Giving this Holiday Season

by Lauren Toolan

With the holidays quickly approaching, people are purchasing more toys than at any other time of year! Not only is it important to buy the perfect holiday gift for that special child, but also to understand the importance of play for children.  

Play may appear simplistic; however, it has great importance in a child’s development. Play is one of the primary goals of childhood, and it takes on many different forms as a child learns, develops and grows. Through play, a child first learns to understand the world around them and how to interact within it. Play should be motivating, spontaneous, flexible, fun, and educational. It helps in the development of coordination, language, emotional maturity, and the social skills that are needed for a child to grow. It is vital that unstructured play be a large part of a child’s life and that the toys used in play properly engage with the child’s needs. 

Finding the perfect gift for a child can be difficult, but purchasing a gift for a child with special needs is even harder. There are a few skill areas to consider while shopping for a gift for a child with special needs: auditory, engagement, bilateral hand use, fine motor, tactile, gross motor, and language skills. 

Skill Areas

Let’s define the skill areas, why they are important, and what types of toys would be helpful for development. 

Auditory Skills

Auditory skills are related to hearing, which can help to reduce sensitivity or increase attentiveness to sound. Toys that will help with auditory and engagement skills are musical instrument sets, balloons and pump, Playmobil school bus, Disney HeadBanz game, Alex Toys Tubtunes water flutes, and LeapFrog My Pal Scout or My Pal Violet.

Bilateral Hand Use

Bilateral hand use refers to the ability to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled and organized manner. Using toys to help practice bilateral coordination can help with activities such as walking, playing musical instruments, stirring food in a bowl while holding the bowl, and other daily activities that require two hands. Some toys that will help practice bilateral coordination are Melissa & Doug Flip and Serve Pancake Set, Ultra Zoomball Game, Play-Doh Set, Melissa & Doug Bead Sequencing Set, and Alex Toys String a Farm. 

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills refer to the small movements of the hands, wrists, fingers, feet, toes, lips, and tongue. Fine motor skills with grasping reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and tasting with the tongue. Toys that will help with fine motor skills are The Bright Direct Lite Brite Magic Screen, Crayola Magnetic Double-Sided Easel, Wok N Roll, Avalanche Fruit Stand, Mancala, and Play-Doh.


Tactile is how the brain can understand information through touch. Children with tactile trouble may be clumsy with small or fragile items, have a hard time writing, and may hold objects tightly to “feel” them better. A few toys that are good for tactile skills are kinetic sand, Crayola Color Wonder, Shape SENSEation, Senseez vibrating pillows, Senseez Bumpy Turtle, and Fabric Dart Board Set.

Gross Motor Skills

Gross motor skills are the abilities required in order to control the large muscles of the body for walking, running, sitting, crawling, and other activities. Toys to assist in gross motor skill development are Toy Rocket Stomp Launcher, LEGO preschool play table, stand up scooter, ride on toys, jump rope, and Hopper Ball.


Language is how children understand and communicate in early childhood. Toys that promote interaction such as a kitchen set, puppets, Fisher-Price Dollhouse, Apples to Apples Kids, Disney HeadBanz, and dress up kit are good for language development.

The goal is to find toys that fit the child and encourage play and growth in all six areas. Look beyond age or gender and consider toys or activities that fit the individual child and their needs. Remember, play is meant to be a social skill. The most learning happens when your children get to play with you and/or their peers.  

There are many types of professionals that can assist you and your child in the development of play skills, including physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Feel free to contact Theraplay for further information on play and its importance to your child’s development, as well as specific gifts to get this holiday season. Most of all enjoy the time spent playing with your child!


Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors on June 10 2007. Boasting over 100,000 sq. ft., a 5-pool aquatics complex, and over 200+ weekly group and aqua fitness classes, it is Delaware's premier fitness destination. 100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, DE ·

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