Need gift ideas for the kids? Ask your doctor of optometry

December 14, 2016
Doctors of optometry share lists of their favorite toys and games that aid in the development of a child's vision and mind.

Where do some parents turn for advice on holiday gifts to put on their "nice" list for Jack and Jill?

Aside from the popular "hottest" toys lists that circulate around the holidays, parents can add doctors of optometry to the list of gift gurus. Eye doctors have been checking off what toys are out there this holiday season, including ones they review and ones they check out after parents recommend them.

Kellye Knueppel, O.D., who practices in Wisconsin, has issued an annual list of vision-friendly toys on her practice's blog for the past few years. Thanks to social media, her practice's "2016 Gift List: 105 Optometrist-Approved Children's Toys" has more than 300 likes since it posted.

That's 105 toys—eight more than last year—that range from building toys (Nos. 1 through 8) to snowboards (No. 105). Don't forget to wear a helmet and goggles, doctors say.

"I have used some form of a list around Christmas time for most of the 20-plus years I have been in practice," says Dr. Knueppel, who modeled her first list after observing other doctors' lists. "Parents definitely appreciate gift ideas around Christmas and birthdays."

Dr. Knueppel adds, "Many optometrists share my list with their patients. I think it's popular because the things on the list are fun. I try for a mix of classic, traditional toys along with some newer, fun toys and games."

Doctors of optometry say they compiled their lists to build awareness around vision health. The toys on their lists boost child development—from their vision to their minds.

Beyond the gift wrap

Mary Gregory, O.D., practices in Monticello, Minnesota. She has her own list for parents that reflects doctors' roles as primary care providers.

Dr. Gregory's practice posted its "nice list" of games and toys on Dec. 7.

"I have a quick list of games that I like, and many of these we use in my therapy clinic," she says. "A few are new, but most are oldies but goodies. The toys that should always be sought after are ones that you have to be creative with and are usually hands-on, though many have been converted into an app, too. Great companies that usually have wonderful toys are Melissa & Doug, Fat Brain toys—my new favorite game is called 'Acuity'—Thinkfun and MindWare.

"These are all toys for visual learning, which help to understand what we see and how we relate that to our world," she adds. "They develop strategic thinking skills, visual memory, spatial relationships, visual closure and visualization. 

These are all key concepts we need for success in sports, academics and problem-solving."

Dr. Gregory's list is broken down into three categories: eye-hand coordination; fine motor control; and visual perception or visual thinking games.

  • Eye-Hand Coordination: Building sets such as Legos; magnets; Jenga®; Magformers; and K'NEX and games such as Fishin' Around; Operation; and KerPlunk. "Some of these are great for adults, too," Dr. Gregory says.
  • Fine motor control: Play-Doh; lacing cards; Perler Beads; coloring books; Etch A Sketc; Lite-Brite Magic Screen; and sand art.
  • Visual perception or visual thinking games: Parquetry blocks; puzzles; "Where's Waldo?" books; Seek and Find books; Perplexus; Spot It; Acuity; Battleship; Labyrinth; SET: The Family Game of Visual Perception; Simon, an electronic memory game; Rush Hour; checkers; Perfection; Memory; Rubik's Cubes; Q-Bitz; Blink; Suspend Family Game; and Gears!Gears!Gears!®  

Scrooge-like scrutiny

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

  • Safe
  • Developmentally appropriate
  • Intellectually and visually stimulating

"Parents should be very aware of projectile toys with younger kids," says Glen Steele, O.D., professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Steele also is chair of the AOA's InfantSEE® and Children's Vision Committee.

"Also, think about older kids using such toys around younger kid," he says. "The toy may be 'safe' for a 10-year-old, but if they are around four-year-olds, then more care is necessary. This would include any flying or projectile toys such as a bow and arrow or other toys that discharge."

It's worth noting that the eye doctors don't include the very popular electronic toys and games on their lists.

"We really strongly encourage keeping kids away from electronic devices," Dr. Knueppel says. "They're getting enough of that already. It's not that the devices are bad, but too much of them can be bad.

"Back when there weren't video games, we had games that forced us to play with others and use our minds in a creative way. 

Not to say video games are all bad, there certainly are great learning games. We just need to use them in moderation. In fact, some of the games listed might be found as an app and could be great learning games and visual thinking games, but I prefer kids to play with the board game or cards when possible."

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