To help parents pick out the toys that will enhance a child’s visual development, we’re offering up our 2020 list of 131 optometrist-approved children’s toys! This year we’ve labeled the toys with age-appropriate designations.
This year, we have a surprising new addition to the list. It’s absolutely the #1 most-cherished gift you could possibly give a child. We’re going to spend some time on it first, before we dive into the rest of the list:
The Most Important Gift You Can Give a Child is Your Time
Reading to your child is not only fun, it can have a significant positive impact on their developing reading skills and school performance. Have fun choosing which books you will read together and shoot for reading at least one book each day.
Playing with your kids makes them feel loved and important. It is also a great opportunity to encourage creativity and imagination and guide their learning of academic and social skills. Take the time to play whatever they would like, just make sure to make it extra silly and fun.
Take the time to show your child all of the wonderful alternatives to screen time by getting outside and recreating with them. A simple game of catch provides exercise and improves eye-hand and eye-body coordination as well as depth perception.
Consider giving your child coupons or play money that can be exchanged for you to stop what you’re doing and spend time with them. Your child will love it, we promise!
Ok...on to the List!
Obviously, your kids need to play on their own as well. Our vision-friendly gift list includes a list of toys that will enhance a child’s visual development, particularly their functional vision skills.
Functional vision is how your entire visual system -- the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways -- work together to help you interact with your environment. Functional vision includes the visual skill areas of eye teaming, eye focusing and eye movement.
With each toy listing, you’ll find how these toys can improve your child’s functional vision.
Matching Toys to Developmental Age
When selecting a toy or activity, be sure to align the gift with their developmental age, rather than their actual age. This year we’ve added the developmental age appropriate to each toy to help narrow down your choices!
If your child has a functional vision problem, you should always consult with your developmental optometrist to choose toys that will enhance your child’s treatment.
Develop eye-hand coordination and visualization/imagination.
Building Blocks (Ages 1+)
Mega Bloks (1+)
Lincoln Logs (3+)
Tinker Toys (3+)
Erector Set (8+)
Meet Pindaloo! The latest, perfect skill toy set to stimulate brain, eye, and hand activities. Challenging and fun juggling, ball toss-and-catch play based on a simple loop principle. But not too easy! Once you master the basics, you'll find endless throwing and catching tricks for cool interactive and educational play.
Photo courtesy of Magformers.
Design and create unique one-of-a-kind builds with Magformers. Build your very own castles, racecars, robots and many more items with Magformers patented “always attracting” technology. Magformers is the industry leader in magnetic construction toys. With over 30 different geometric shapes, Magformers promotes creativity, imagination and constructional play.
Roller Coaster Challenge (8+)
Photo Courtesy of ThinkFun, Inc.
Roller Coaster Challenge - Build an amusement park in your living room! In this thrilling engineering challenge, players get to build their very own roller coasters. Start by choosing a challenge card and setting up the pieces to match. Then, players use the remaining pieces to build a working roller coaster that meets the build conditions on their challenge card. Roller Coaster Challenge incorporates elements of a logic puzzle, while also allowing for the creativity that stems from free-form building. Once you have solved each challenge, you get to watch a real coaster car glide down the track, complete with dips, curves, and loops! Roller Coaster Challenge earned American Specialty Toy Retailer Association’s (ASTRA) Best Toys for Kids Award in the Logic Skills winner.
VEX Robotics (8+)
VEX Robotics is a highly-versatile construction that allows students to build whatever they can imagine. It allows students a platform to immerse themselves in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math through the fun of building robots.
Fine Motor Skill Toys
Develop visual-motor integration and fine motor skills.
Finger Paints (1+)
Kinetic Sand (1+)
Pegboard and Pegs (3+)
Coloring Books and Crayons (3+)
Dot-to-Dot Activity Books (3+)
Play-Doh/Modeling Clay (3+)
Chalkboard Easel (3+)
Large Bead Stringing (3+)
Lacing Cards (3+)
Silly Putty (4+)
Rainbow Loom (5+)
Origami Sets (8+)
Paint or Color By Numbers
Bead Craft Kits
Models (Car, Airplane, Ship, etc.)
Space Perception Toys
Develop depth perception and eye-hand coordination.
Within arm’s length:
Jumpin’ Monkeys (5+)
Jumpin’ Monkeys will have you jumpin’ for fun! This cute game has been beloved for years. Players catapult all of their monkeys into the tree first to win! Introduce a new generation to this wonderful game today! For 2 to 4 players, ages 5 and up.
Don’t Break the Ice (3+)
Ants in the Pants (3+)
Egg and Spoon Race (4+)
Fishin’ Around (4+)
Flippin’ Frogs (5+)
Pick-up Sticks (5+)
Door Pong (7+)
Beyond arm's length:
Ball (any kind!) (All ages!)
Frisbee Rings (3+)
Dart Games (velcro) (3+)
Nerf Basketball (4+)
Box & Balls (5+)
Ring Toss (5+)
Toss Across (tic-tac-toe) (5+)
Cornhole Bean Bags
A classic! You can’t go wrong with a set of cornhole bean bags. We found these at the Cornhole-store.com. (Naturally you’ll need a bean bag toss board to go with it!)
Oball (good for kids who have difficulty catching balls) (6+)
Ping Pong (6+)
Bowling Zombies (8+)
Visual Thinking Toys and Games
Develop visual perceptual skills including: visualization, visual memory, visual discrimination, pattern recognition and sequencing. These skills are important for academics including mathematics, reading and spelling.
Photo and description courtesy of Learning Resources.
Taking apart and rebuilding things encourages a real understanding of how things work. Gears! Gears! Gears!® building sets feature optional building ideas while also fostering creative, open-ended play.
Thinkfun Laser Chess (8+)
Laser Chess is a “Beam Directing Strategy Game” for two players that combines the spatial thinking skills of chess with the high-tech fun of laser beams. Promotes STEM learning, light and reflection physics. Winner of multiple awards, including a National Parenting Product Award, MENSA Select and Parents’ Choice Silver Honor.
Thinkfun Shadows in the Forest (8+)
Shadows in the Forest is a “Play in the Dark Strategy Game.” This thrilling, immersive play experience brings a distinctive twist to game night – you play in the dark! Promotes cooperative play, strategic thinking, light and shadow physics. As seen in Polygon and TrendHunter. Winner of a Techlicious Best of Toy Fair and National Parenting Product Award.
Photo courtesy of Educational Insights.
Challenge yourself with this award-winning, brain-twisting game. Kanoodle contains more than 100 puzzles, perfect for hours of solo play. Just place the pieces shown in the puzzle book, and decide where the rest of the pieces go to complete the puzzle. Varying levels of difficulty will help develop problem solving, strategic thinking and spatial reasoning skills. For a more challenging game, try Kanoodle Genius or Kanoodle Extreme. For an easier version, Kanoodle Jr. offers the same great game concept for players as young as 4.
Photo courtesy of Mattelgames.com.
UNO is a number and color matching game of cards that's fun and easy for kids of all ages. UNO can be played with 2 to 10 players and is appropriate for ages 7 and over. The player who plays first must match a card in their hand to the card on the discard pile. Play continues until one player uses all of their cards. A classic!
Spot It! (7+)
Photo courtesy of MindWare.com.
Spot It! is also a number and color matching game of cards that's fun and easy for kids of all ages. The concept is simple: each of the 55 cards in the deck feature eight symbols, and there is always exactly one matching symbol between any two cards in the deck. Your goal is to be the quickest to find the match between two cards.
Color Blocks and 1” Cubes (1+)
Wooden form board puzzles (2+)
Jigsaw puzzles (3+)
Old Maid Card Game (3+)
Go Fish Card Game (4+)
Parquetry Blocks (4+)
Tumble Trax (5+)
Color Code (5+)
Attribute Blocks (5+)
Make N Break Jr. (5+)
Rush Hour Jr.(5+)
Mathlink Cubes (5+)
Smart Games IQ Puzzler Pro (6+)
Guess Who (6+)
Chinese Checkers (6+)
Math Dice, Math Dice Jr. (6+)
Connect Four (6+)
Thinkfun Cat Crimes (8+)
Bop It (8+)
Rubik’s Cube (8+)
Color Cube Sudoku (8+)
Rory’s Story Cubes (8+)
Bejeweled Board Game (8+)
Tetris Bop It (8+)
Connect Four Shots (8+)
Rush Hour (8+)
Sort it Out (12+)
Develop visualization and visual memory
Guidecraft Memory Caps (3+)
Memory Game (5+)
Chicken Cha Cha Cha (4+)
Chicken Cha Cha Cha is a fun and fast twist on the memory game. The players' chickens move around the barnyard when the correct facedown tiles are chosen. If your chicken leaps over another player's chicken, it gets to steal its tail feather. When one player collects all the different tail feathers, they win!
Balance and Coordination Toys and Games
Develop gross motor skills, laterality and bilateral coordination.
Sit and Spin (1.5+)
Hoppity Hop (3+)
Foam pogo jumper (3+)
Walkaroo Stilts (4+)
Hoola hoop (4+)
Jump Rope (5+)
Slip ’n Slide (5+)
Pogo stick (5+)
Balance Beam/Walking Rail
Special thanks to all the toy companies who contributed product descriptions to this post. Happy holidays!