If you’ve been reading the blog posts of the last few weeks, you know I’m a fan of toys. Toys can give your child a chance to develop mentally, physically, and emotionally. But are toys the only good gifts for kids? No, far from it. I believe every child should also have some real tools to test out. Learning real-life skills gives kids a sense of confidence and self-reliance that can reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem. But how do you support your child in gaining those skills?

Cooking

Cooking is one of my favorite things to do with kids. Support a child in your life with the gift of a set of child-sized real kitchen tools. You can find those at many local stores, Pampered Chef parties, and on-line. Having a set of tools the right size for your hand makes stirring, pouring, and cooking much more fun and manageable. You can package your small tools with an apron or baking mix to get the child in your life started on their cooking adventure.

A set like this one by Tovla includes serrated, nylon knives. These are a great place to start with teaching basic knife safety and proper technique for cutting. They can cut most soft vegetables without actually having a sharp blade. But nylon knives can be too coarse a tool for cutting herbs or hard vegetables, like carrots. When your child is ready to move on to a knife with a real, metal edge, start with a small chef’s knife with a 5 or 6-inch blade. This one by Victorinox is highly rated by America’s Test Kitchen.  There are also options, like this one by Opinel, with a finger guard.

If your child is interested in learning more about cooking, America’s Test Kitchen has a bunch of great resources on their Cooking with Kids website including some classes and kid-friendly recipes.

Gardening

Sets of child-sized gardening tools are wonderful for helping your child get outside and dig in the dirt. If the weather isn’t conducive to an outdoor garden, consider gifting this with plants that can be grown indoors. Every plant you grow is like your own personal science lesson. Consider if a cactus, succulent, or small tree would be best for your budding gardener.

Digging in the dirt is one of the best parts of childhood, IMHO. Even if your child doesn’t grow a crop of anything, having the chance to explore what is under the grass with a good spade is a great science lesson.  Let them dig up rocks and worms if that is what interests them. The tools for gardening aren’t all that different than those for archaeology, right?

Crafting

Several years ago, my sister in law gave my youngest an adorable weaving kit. The kit included a wooden loom and all she needed to get started. This kit resulted in hours of time where my child was developing motor coordination and working on gaining a new skill.

Craft kits can be a great way to help a child learn new skills and give them something to do without a screen. Look for kits that are targeted at the right age, interest level, and size for your child. The more real the tools, the more engaging the kit will be. Kids like to see real results and a real product, so keep that in mind.

Tweens and Teens

If you are shopping for a middle schooler or high schooler, skip over the kits for kids, and go ahead and look at tools and kits targeted at adults. By age 12, most tweens have hands big enough to hold tools made for adults and are going to be more engaged in doing real grown-up style work than that targeted at younger kids. Buy the real sewing machine instead of the child-sized toy one. Invest in a toolset your child can take with them when they get their own place. Just be sure you have on hand what your child needs to support their new craft, or are willing to get it. Learning to build a shelf is going to require some wood. Sewing clothes takes fabric and thread.  Gift cards to stores that have what your child needs may help them explore their new interest, too.

This year, giving an experience that takes your child out into the world, might be hard to do. But you can create experiences at home with tools and kits that let your child develop new skills they will have for the rest of their lives.

P.S. Here are the links to the things I’ve recommended today.

Gardener Tool Set

by Toyrifik

Weaving Loom Set

by FAO Schwarz

And these are a few other ideas for real-world tools that are great for small hands.

Want to learn more about my favorite OT-related toys and games?

I’m a huge fan of using toys and games as a way of helping kids reach their OT goals. That’s why each week, for the last few weeks, I have been featuring my favorite toys and games with Occupational Therapy benefits here on my blog. Make sure that you are signed up for our mailing list so you don’t miss out on any of my posts. And check out previous posts in the “My Favorite Toys” category.

About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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