Occupational therapist recommends best toys for Christmas

WICHITA, Kan. - Shoppers are looking for the best deals on toys for Christmas, but how can you know if it's the best toy for your child?

Amy Harvey has 22 years of experience as an occupational therapist. She says the best toys are low-tech. Kids think that they're playing, but they're actually learning and developing skills without realizing it.

Harvey says the best toys you can get for young children encourage interaction and eye contact. It can be something as simple as peek-a-boo.

"Infant through toddler age, you really are wanting that one on one interaction between the child and an adult," Harvey says.

She also suggests getting interactive books with noises and textures. Your child can learn the direction behind the words "touch", "feel" and "listen". Have your child help turn the pages.

Toys like a shape sorter develop bilateral coordination, as young children hold the bucket with one hand and put the blocks in with the other hand. Parents can ask their child to pick out the blocks by color or shape.

Using cookie cutters with Play-Doh encourages using two hands.

"If you have a child that's not using one arm and they only use one and they try to leave one to the side, you can encourage them to push really hard with that and it gives them some feedback," Harvey says.

Remember Mr. Potato Head? He's still around, and can help your child learn.

"Things like your right and your left. Where's your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your ears? What's front, back, top, bottom?"

For older children, puzzles can help kids learn about taking different steps, like turning over all the pieces then sorting them by color.

Legos develop find motor skills. Kids learn to pick up small pieces and put them together. It also teaches kids how to follow directions.

Harvey particularly likes the Lite-Brite. She says grasping the pieces helps kids develop the grip to hold a pencil. Kids also learn to follow directions and coordinate colors.

Science kits or craft kits allow your child to take the lead. Harvey suggests having the kids read the directions, then the adult "learns" from the child.

Simple coloring books prepare children for writing. Kids will have to write between two lines, and learning to color between two lines is a good start.

Christmas doesn't have to be about having the latest and greatest toys.

Harvey says kids find excitement in routine activities. That's something adults can forget.

"We tend to forget that our kids don't necessarily have to do those high-tech things. I know they like them, but a lot of times, you give a child some of these items and they get just as excited, because again, it's that interaction with Mom or Dad," Harvey says.

She says you can make daily activities fun, too.

"Maybe an apron and their own baking set, and they can help bake cookies."

Harvey says games help develop social skills like turn-taking.

"It's a way to get some academic, educational pieces in while you're playing with your child, and they don't necessarily realize that they are learning something. They're just having fun with Mom or Dad or Grandma or Grandpa."

Harvey says all the toys she recommends cost less than $25.