Get 107 toy and game recommendations for parents.

2017 vision-friendly gift list

Holiday gift ideas for kids can be entertaining, educational and eye- and vision-healthy. Just ask your local doctor of optometry.

“If I enjoy it and children love it and it builds visual skills, I will add it to the list.”

In time for the holidays, Kellye Knueppel, O.D., who practices in Wisconsin at The Vision Therapy Center, recently posted her "2017 Vision-Friendly Gift List: 107 Optometrist-Approved Children's Toys" on the center's blog. Doctors of optometry say they compile similar lists to build awareness around children's eye care, vision health and development.

"Many of the toys and games on the list are tried and true," says Dr. Knueppel, a developmental optometrist. "I look first at which visual skills would be needed to play. Second, and just as importantly, I consider whether children love playing with a toy or game and will play with it many times.

The time-tested on the list include Twister, Lincoln Logs and Operation.

"For new toys, I read reviews online and often purchase the toy to try it out myself," says Dr. Knueppel, who opened her practice in 1995. "In the past few years, some companies have been willing to send me games to try. If I enjoy it and children love it and it builds visual skills, I will add it to the list."

Among the "newer" items on the list are toys and games (such as Roller Coaster Challenge and Gears!Gears!Gears!) that would fall under the category of STEM-friendly. Referring to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, these toys and games are meant to inspire students to pursue those career paths. Why not have fun and improve your eye-hand coordination with Bowling Zombies?

The AOA's InfantSEE® and Children's Vision Committee also has developed a list of age-appropriate games and toys as a resource for doctors of optometry and their patients. Click here to view the list.

Making the cut

Not every toy passes doctors' muster. They suggest games and toys that are:

  • Safe
  • Developmentally appropriate
  • Intellectually and visually stimulating

Dr. Knueppel's recommendations, gathered from her observation and testing, patients and parents, are broken down into six categories:

Building Toy
(develops eye-hand coordination and visualization/imagination): Roller Coaster Challenge, Magformers, VEX Robotics, Kreo Sets, Mega Bloks, K'NEX, Building Blocks, Legos/Duplos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and Erector Set.

Fine Motor Skill Toys
(develops visual-motor integration and fine motor skills): Origami Sets, Rainbow Loom, Lite-Brite Pegboard and Pegs, coloring books and crayons, dot-to-dot activity books, finger paints, Play-Doh/Silly Putty/modeling clay, chalkboard (24" x 36")/easel, bead stringing, sewing cards (craft), paint or color by numbers, sand art, stencils, bead craft kits, models (car, airplane, ships, etc.) and jacks.

Space Perception Toys
(develops depth perception and eye-hand coordination): Jumpin' Monkeys, egg and spoon race, Flippin' Frogs, Ants in the Pants, Fishin' Around, Operation, pick-up sticks games, KerPlunk, Jenga, Don't Break the Ice, marbles, Cornhole Bean Bags, Bowling Zombies, oball (good for kids who have difficulty catching balls), balls, pitchback, Toss Across (tic-tac-toe), ring toss, Nerf basketball, dart games (with Velcro), ping pong, Cuponk, Elefun, badminton and Frisbee.

Visual Thinking Toys and Games
(develops visual perceptual skills including visualization, visual memory, visual discrimination, pattern recognition and sequencing; these skills are important for academics including mathematics, reading and spelling): Color Cube Sudoku, //CODE: Rover Control, Kanoodle, UNO, Spot It!, Gears!Gears!Gears!, Color Code, Math Dice/Math Dice Jr., Rory's Story Cubes, Amaze, color blocks and 1" cubes, Bejeweled Board Game, Tetris Bop It, Parquetry Blocks, Attribute Blocks, Make 'N' Break, jigsaw puzzles, card games (Old Maid, Go Fish, etc.), dominoes, ThinkFun Bug Trails, checkers, Chinese checkers, Perplexus, Qwirkle, Battleship, Labyrinth, Blokus, Connect Four, Rush Hour/Rush Hour Jr., Regatta, Perfection, Tactilo and Bingo.

Memory Games:
Chicken Cha Cha Cha, Simon Flash, Bop It, Hyper Dash, BLINK, Set: The Family Game of Visual Perception, Loopz, Racko, Sort it Out, Tangrams/Tangoes, Mancala, Q-bitz and Rubik's Cube.

Balance and Coordination Toys and Games
(develops gross motor skills, laterality and bilateral coordination): snowboards, Hoppity Hop, jump ropes, Sit and Spin, Slip 'N Slide, stilts, Twister and Heads Up!

Note that none of the toys are digital, computer and video games. The doctor of optometry says she already has concerns about how much time young people spend on digital devices. "We just need to use them in moderation," she says. Also, she encourages the wearing of safety glasses and helmets for the more strenuous activities on the list and making sure the games are age-appropriate (no toys with small pieces that might create choking hazards for the very young).

A holiday tradition


Hundreds of parents check out Dr. Knueppel's list during the holiday season. She has been compiling the list since the mid-1990s. but has been more consistent about it for the past decade.

"I was inspired to make the list because parents of optometric vision therapy patients are always asking what additional things they can do to help develop their children's vision," she says. "We tend to think of computers for developing thinking skills, but in developing visual skills along with thinking skills it is almost always better to do things in real space.

"I also have 18 nieces and nephews, so around this time of year I am always looking for fun and great Christmas gifts," she adds.

Read the AOA's evidence-based clinical practice guideline, Comprehensive Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination, released earlier this year.

November 30, 2017

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