Saturday, December 7, 2019

Holiday Gift Ideas: ABA Favorites

When Elizabeth first approached me about doing a round-up of all my favorite ABA toys, I thought to myself, "Sure thing! I have a ton of great ideas to share." Forgetting that a "ton of great ideas," meant that I had to narrow them down and combine them into a format that parents would find useful. I reached out to fellow teachers, therapists, and parents.  With their help, I came up with an extensive list containing over 100 types of toys sorted into 10 separate categories. I chose my favorites from the list and used them to create this post.

But first, let me tell you a little bit about myself.

My name is Dana Howell and I am a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst.) I have spent the last 10+ years working with children in multiple different capacities, ranging from speech-language pathology assistant to special education teacher and everything in between. I started my company Behavioral Interventions And Solutions, LLC (BIAS) because, over the years, I have developed an interest in helping parents learn valuable strategies to assist with developing skills and managing behavior within their homes. There is so much information out there for parents to digest, and it is essential to know that it is coming from a source you can trust.

Ok, enough about me. Time to get back to toys!

Some of my favorite toy brands that you will see recurring throughout this post include Melissa and Doug, Educational Insights, Peaceable Kingdom, Learning Resources, Learning Journey, and Fat Brain Toys.

Each of these brands incorporates a variety of educational skills into their toys. Not to mention that they are colorful, durable, and appeal to children and adults alike.

I then divided my favorite toys into eight different categories: cause and effect, puzzles, open-ended, close-ended, board games, sensory, fine motor, and gross motor. You will quickly see that many of the toys I highlight in this post can actually fit into more than one category.

Cause and Effect Toys

Children learn through exploration, and when they have access to cause and effect toys, they begin to understand that their actions make things happen. Cause and effect toys are designed to increase hand-eye coordination and often follow a repetitive sequence that is essential in helping children develop early communication and problem-solving skills.

My favorite cause and effect toys include musical instruments, roll towers, toys that pop/spin/move/make a sound at the push of a button, stacking cups & dump and fill style toys.

Close-Ended Toys

Toys that are considered to be close-ended have a distinct stopping point. When all the pieces are put together or taken apart, the activity is finished. Children who struggle with attention or task completion will often benefit from close-ended tasks.

My favorite close-ended toys include pattern blocks, shape sorters, Mr. Potato Head, ring stacker, Snap and Sort, lacing cards/beads & single-inset puzzles.

Open-Ended Toys

On the other hand, open-ended toys are toys that can be used and over for hours on end. These toys typically require the use of a child's imagination and creativity. Open-ended toys are designed to increase language acquisition, social skill development and self-expression.

My favorite open-ended toys include Legos, Magna Tiles, pretend play sets and costumes, marble mazes, blocks, train sets & Brain Flakes.


Puzzles are one of those toys that become a category of their own. They range in complexity from single-inset to jigsaw and can incorporate a variety of skills such as spelling, matching and imaginative play. Most puzzles are close-ended activities and also are an easy way to increase fine motor skills in children.

My favorite puzzles include matching puzzles, floor puzzles, sound puzzles, alphabet/spelling puzzles & magnetic dress-up dolls.

Board Games

Board games are a great way to get the whole family together for an activity. Children learn essential skills such as turn-taking, following directions, waiting and sportsmanship when they participate in structured activities like playing a game. Some games even focus on teamwork and cooperation, encouraging all players to work together to achieve a goal.

My favorite games include anything by Peaceable Kingdom or Educational Insights, Zingo, Cariboo, Guess Who, Connect 4, Don't Break the Ice, Pop-Up Pirate & Suspend.

Sensory Toys

Many children also enjoy engaging in sensory play. Often these activities involve exploring different textures, scents, movements, and sounds. Sensory toys stimulate a child's senses and allow them to develop skills around self-regulation.

My favorite sensory toys include water beads, kinetic sand, Discovery Putty, pop tubes, pin art & textured bean bags.

Fine/Gross Motor Toys

Fine motor play often involves small movements and helps children increase strength in the smaller muscles such as their fingers and wrists. Whereas gross motor play involves larger movements and increases strength in the arm, leg and core muscles.

My favorite fine motor toys include anything with tweezers, droppers, stickers, or other small pieces, and my favorite gross motor toys include ribbon dancers, bowling, trampolines, yoga balls, balance boards & stepping stones.

You can access all of the specific toys and brands mentioned above, via my Amazon Affiliate link.

(Behavioral Interventions And Solutions, LLC is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Also, be sure to check out You can find a variety of visual supports that accompany your favorite games and toys available as a digital download in my store.

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