structured play for toddlers & preschoolers

I was a sent a huge box of beautiful toys from Finlee & Me to review and have fun with. We got to keep the toys and it was perfect timing as this year is our last year at home and we’re really focusing on taking turns, helping speech, playing with other children and getting ready for the classroom next year. This isn’t a paid review and I’m offering some tips and other things that we do at home for structured play. I’m no expert in early education or child development but have sat in on enough OT and speech sessions to help my little girl (and am still learning) and hope that this helps some of you.

If you have a few little ones then you know that they love to play together happily without too much help. This was the story with my eldest 3 who were very happy and capable of playing together. If you have a child with special needs or perhaps a late talker, a child who can’t share or even an only child who doesn’t like to play alone – well you know that you have to get involved in playtime. So a big box of toys arrives and there are so many to choose from and the most popular one…………..this one, which is great for colours, fine motor, using left and right hands, crossing the midline (oh I hope our OT appreciates that I put that one in there as I had no idea what she was talking about).

Don’t leave the room with this one especially if you have babies around or in my case the balls got thrown around the room like tennis balls and had to be retrieved from under furniture. This is also a great one to say pick the green ball or the red one. When you are teaching colours or asking a young child or special needs child to choose it’s good to start with 2 choices not too many. So put out the red and green and ask to pick up the green one. And so on. Then you can add more colours. This was lots of fun and the kids favourite….even the big kids keep asking where it is (hidden so we keep the balls together with the game!).

Close behind was the kinetic sand but this was not my favourite but only because of the cleaning up (you will notice the paper quickly appeared once I realised it was being flung around) but the kids loved this one. All of them.

Again don’t leave the room.  A good tip is to do it outside on an outdoor table or the ground on some newspaper or a mat. This is so great for kids who have sensory issues as fear of sand can be a big one and this one is just so much fun that you want to get your hands in there. Great for fine motor and I just love the description of 98% sand and 2% magic. I’d always heard of other parents talk about kinetic sand but this really is fun. Great for kids birthday presents. You can find more sensory toys here.

Peek, seek and find bags are fun. We’ve never used one before and this one was probably a bit too old for my little girl because of her developmental age but great for 4 years and older. You can start to introduce the alphabet. Mum or Dad might ask the child to find the letter A and there is a velcro sheet of the alphabet so that you can point out the letter that you are wanting your little one to find. Definitely going to look for a girly girl one and this one is safely set aside for when we are at school and learning the alphabet. This is also a great quiet activity to take to appointments, in the car or for church.

I’ve never seen appletters before but this is such a good quality game. This one is for my older 3 and they can make words, play crosswords, divide the letters between them and play a word game. They are nice and heavy letters and a good size and the apple storage case is genius. This is one that I’ve also put aside for my little girl when she is learning the alphabet. Would make a wonderful birthday party present for a school aged child or an advanced preschooler who is learning to spell words.

My biggest tip with structured play for special needs kids is to incorporate your little one’s interests into it. For us it’s all about bright colours, princesses, super cute little puppies and cats (I love that she can say ‘cuuuuute’ and ‘oh my goooooosh’), anything crafty and did I say princesses. Yes princesses. Whether they love princesses or lego or building things work out a way to incorporate it into their play and when you are doing one on one at home.

other tips for structured play

TV off, phone away and  undivided attention

talk (oh you want the red one, that’s the red one)

pause and give plenty of time for your little one to answer (it can take them a bit longer to find the words/action)

practise taking turns

be patient

look on pinterest, play blogs and the internet for ideas and inspiration

 pick the right time of day (mornings and just after lunch work well for us, not just before dinner)

if your child has special needs remember to choose activities that are appropriate for their level

build on their strengths and what they are good at to develop a sense of confidence


  1. These look so good. Wish we had things like this back when I had one at OT & two at speech. I also wish I had a dollar for every time I heard those magic words ” he has to cross the midline”. So many great ideas there, I’m sure they will really help someone starting out on the journey down the therapy road. You are doing a brilliant job with your gorgeous little girl ☺

  2. Lovely! I made alot of the Sneak,Peak and Find bags years ago…my Grandies and their friends loved them. I just went through all my crafty/sewing bits and pieces to pop in and made a list of them on a small card with a pic beside each.

  3. dianne nunn says:

    What a lovely collection of toys and ideas. We have kinetic sand for the twinnies aged 4.5) to play with when they visit but my 18 year old grand daughter loves it too. We use plastic trays so the sand doesn’t fall over the edges. We also use kitchen utensils and mini gardening tools with the sand.

  4. Just looked at the website great gifts the one that caught my eye that your little girl may like is the story stones fairy tale set great oral language helper if she loves princesses .

  5. We love kenetic sand as as a preschool teacher I know that sand therapy is fantastic. Can I suggest a kitty litter tray as a great way to keep the sand contained whilst still being able to explore freely. Even my 18 year old loves it as a form of relaxation.

  6. Kyle Turnbull says:

    We keep our kinetic sand in a large flat under bed plastic container with lid. The kids play with it in the container and it significantly helps to contain the mess.

  7. Jantine Urban says:

    Oh how lovely, all those new toys. As a teacher I keep wondering why games to learn your alphabets are always made with capitals as in our country they won’t learn to read with the capitals but with small letters! We encourage parents to use small letters too!

  8. Lovely reviews :) there’s so many amazing looking toys out there now…but it’s always hard to know it they’d really pass the mummy test!

    I’m also popping by to share my Children’s Site, we write beautiful Children’s eBooks and currently have two FREE. I thought you might appreciate it.

    Happy Reading!

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