Tis the Toy Season- Toy Guide

‘Tis that time of year again! And all your kids want are toys, toys, toys! This can feel overwhelming when adding to an already large pile of toys in the home setting. Especially when the kids don’t even seem to play with the toys already available!  

Below are some tips and ideas for bringing new toys in this Holiday season. 

1. Balance of educational and choice toys; balance of seated and movement activity gifts

    • Teach your kids from a young age that they may not get everything on their wish list.
    • Provides them with opportunities to learn about toys they may have never seen before.
    • Encourages seated attention or physical activity. 

2. Hide toys and rotate them

    • Hide old toys before new toys come out.
    • When child appears bored of toys that are available, switch toys out with the hidden box of toys. Children will forget about some toys they have, making them feel new and exciting again!
    • Continue this toy rotation as child displays readiness with multiple boxes as options. Allow child to peek into boxes and choose box, if they wish.

3. Incorporate multiple skills per toy

    • Challenge the child to create different ways to use the toy.
    • Model your own creative ways to use the toy
    • Encourage exploration of new toy.

4. Use toy in obstacle course

    • Toys that appear more challenging for a child are great to incorporate into a fun movement activity. This helps break up the challenge and decrease frustration.
    • Great for toys with multiple pieces.
    • Encourages physical activity, especially in those cold months!

5. Keep toys simple

    • Simple toys encourage creativity and imagination!
    • Toys don’t need to have a lot of lights or songs to be fun. These can actually become over-stimulating for a child.
    • Allow child independence for exploring toys with only interrupting activity if unsafe.

6. Favorite educational toy companies

    • These websites allow you the ability to choose toys based on age range so you know what activities are developmentally appropriate for child

If you want some more ideas check out our website or amazon idea page!



Thriving, Not Just Surviving, The Holidays

During this time of the year, a lot is going on so it is natural for kids to be overwhelmed and act out! If you plan on having a family gathering that involves new smells, loud voices, or too many sights; try some of these tips to help your kiddo out.


Social Stories

Reading a social story about what will happen during your next holiday event is a great way to prepare your child. 

  • You can make the social story together! Have your child color in pictures or have them make their own to go along with the story. 


Give Them a Job

Having a specific job during the holiday season can help make your child feel needed or important. Some ideas include: 

  • Setting the table
  • Helping with the cooking process for a dish or two
  • Cleaning up (bring dishes to the sink, dry dishes or even help wash)
  • Bring used napkins and dish cloths to the laundry room
  • Put away the dishes
  • Write down what family members want for dessert 


Calming Space

Provide a quiet space for your child to go when upset or overwhelmed. Go over calming strategies to use when in your calming space. 

  • Build a blanket fort together or use a tent as a place to go.
  • Put calming items inside like a stuffed animal, calming music, putty, a fidget, some coloring supplies, or any other favorite calming tools
  • Explain to your child that this is a place to go if you need to calm your body, but after you are calm you can come back out. 


Practice Beforehand

Practice, practice, practice! Talk about the different strategies provided or come up with your own before the event and leading up to it! Have your child practice smelling or trying the new foods that will be made for the gathering, make this fun-they can sniff it, lick it, eat it or even play with it! Try coming up with topics to talk about at the table, this can help with attention and social interaction skills.  

Holiday gatherings can be overwhelming but thankfully there are tools to help guide you through to make this experience enjoyable for all! If you still have challenges after trying some of these strategies, contact the office at BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy to receive a free screen, or check the website at https://bdiplayhouse.com/free-screenings/


Written By Kiersten Robertson, MOT, OTR/L


Wrapping Presents for all Abilities

“Rocking (and unwrapping) around the Christmas Tree” – with Glee

green present

You’ve been plotting, planning, shopping and ordering fabulous holiday gifts for your little one. Now, it’s time to wrap up that pile of goodies! Here are a few tips to make the unwrapping process by your child easier and more fun for everyone!

  1. Use a single piece of tape while wrapping:

    Little fingers have a hard time pinching and pulling long edges of perfectly secured wrapping paper, make the wrapping/unwrapping process easier on both you and your child by securing sides with a single small piece of tape. The easier to unwrap, the less you have to help and the greater independence you foster in your child!

  2. Use festive bags:

    Avoid the hassle and frustration of unwrapping challenges all together by placing your child’s gifts in holiday bags! The ease of reaching in and removing their special gifts makes the moment more magical!

  3. Skip the wrapping, use a blanket, bag or box:

    Instead of wrapping presents, allow for an “unveiling” of gifts done by the child or parent with a “cover and lift” method. Simple placement of a cover leads to easy removal, decreasing the frustration of small eager hands without spoiling the surprise!

  4. Have toys and objects ready for use:

    The morning of a holiday brings chaos. The anticipation of gifts can lead to high tensions in the home. Make the moment more enjoyable for both of you by setting up toys or gifts ahead of time for prompt use. This means ditching the cardboard boxes, cutting through the tough zip ties, and inserting batteries (when required) before wrapping. Your child will delight in being able to promptly play with their new items while you relax and soak up the smiles!

  5. Scraps saved for learning:

    When the gifts have been opened and the bags, wrapping paper and tissue paper have been strewn about the room, collect the remnants in a box for later use. These various textures, colors and papers provide an excellent opportunity to work on skill building such as digging/finding, texture exposure, cutting with scissors, ripping/tearing, sorting, color identification, and other fun play and learning activities!  

Really let yourselves enjoy the holiday season by removing the stress of present unwrapping with these helpful tips! If your child is having difficulty around the holidays with motor skills for unwrapping and/or management of emotions or expectations impacting sleep, behavior or play, BDI therapists are here to help, offering free consultations for families all year round. We are wishing you the happiest of holidays!

Written by: Maggie Lord, MS, OTR/L


Gift Guide

BDI Playhouse is thrilled to share its 2020 gift guide.  This list is compiled by BDI Playhouse’s therapists specifically for children of all abilities.  The toys are shown through an Amazon Idea List but shopping around and shopping second-hand is highly encouraged!  A variation of each one of these toys can be found at BDI Playhouse’s clinics and are used on a daily basis.  The first list contains items that can be bought at the store or sent straight to your house.  The second list contains experience based gifts.  Both are intended to help your child grow in many areas!

Gifts for Growing Minds and Bodies

Amazon Gift Guide

Gifts that Keep on Giving

  1. Season passes: zoo, museum, aquarium
  2. One-time passes: movies, bowling, swimming, theatre performance, Disney on ice, circus, ice skating, roller skating
  3. Subscriptions: KiwiCo, National Geographic Kids Magazine, Little Passports
  4. Class/Season of Lessons: swimming, sports, gymnastics, dance, karate, musical instrument, pottery class, art class, craft class, horseback riding lessons

Thanks for stopping by!  If you have any questions on the best way to use these toys, check out one of BDI Playhouse classes where we demonstrate how to use these materials or schedule a free screening to talk to one of our therapists!


BDI Staff’s Holiday Traditions


It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  There is always a little bit of extra joy and excitement as we fill our clinics and lesson plans with holiday themes.  We love hearing about our staff and kiddos’s family traditions and how they plan to celebrate the holidays with their families.  Each tradition is so special and unique that it warms our hearts!  Here are some of the special traditions our BDI PLAYHOUSE staff have shared.



“As a child, I loved getting out all our decorations, but especially our holiday books. My parents would pack them away each year, so getting them out for the holiday season made them new and exciting again! We’ve continued this tradition with our kids, adding a new book to the collection each year on the day after Thanksgiving.” – Alison K

“The excitement of getting to open one present on Christmas Eve!” – Amy S. 

“I remember having a sleepover with my sister under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. We always tried to “catch” Santa, but fell asleep too easily.” -Andrea T. 

“My family tradition is a German tradition that we would hide a pickle ornament on our tree at some time on Christmas Eve. The tradition is, that the 1st child to find the pickle got to open 1 gift on Christmas Eve. Well, I have 3 kids, so I ended up having to buy 3 pickles and wrote their names on their pickle so no one got upset that someone got a gift and the other didn’t.  My kids are almost all grown now (at 21, 19 & 14), and on Thanksgiving, they still asked if we were “going to do the pickle” this year. Makes my heart smile that they still find this a fun thing to look forward to.” – Ann Marie

“My favorite holiday memory as a kid is waiting on the stairs (impatiently) Christmas morning while my mom went down and made her coffee while checking to see if Santa came. It felt like an eternity!! I now do the same to my boys and they talk about it all the time as well!” Ann T.

“My family is BIG on holiday traditions! Every year, we go downtown to watch “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman Theatre. It’s a story that never loses it’s magic!” – Jade Pellerito 

“My family participates in the Polish tradition of breaking “Oplatki” before Christmas Eve dinner.  Each family member breaks off a piece of one another’s wafer and wishes a blessing for the upcoming year.” -Jamie B. 

“One of my favorite Holiday Memories, was taking the train with my parents to downtown Chicago and see the Christmas Windows at the stores, and eating lunch at the Walnut Room.

“My other memory was of decorating 2 christmas trees (one upstairs – that had all of the one of a kind, usually breakable ornaments, and Eggshell ornaments that my mom made when pregnant with my brothers).  She would blow out the egg and then decorate the shell with scenes inside.  We would unwrap the ornaments from their protective coverings, while my dad fought in the corner trying to figure out why the strands of lights weren’t working.  The basement tree was usually a real one, and this is the tree that had all of the school and kid made ornaments throughout the years.  (4 kids) lots of these ornaments. Now as a parent, My mother still gives each of us (adult couples got glass one of a kind ornaments) and each of the grandkids had an ornament collection started when each grandchild was born.  Now as my nieces and nephew move out of their parents houses, they are taking their ornament collections with them and adding them to their own trees.  My kids put up my tree every year on the Day after thanksgiving.  This with them being in Highschool and College, they did it during the night while I slept.  So I had a beautiful tree up when I got up, and then had to clean up all of the ornament boxes and bubble wrap…as they did not put them back in the storage containers.” – Jenn Sparano

“My favorite Christmas holiday tradition is celebrating Wigilia, which is the Polish tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve with a dinner, exchanging presents, and attending Midnight Mass with my family.” – Jess D

“My favorite holiday tradition when I was little was for us to go look at lights and then get an icecream after.  I still do it every December!” – Jess K

My favorite holiday tradition is the “Santoro Snack- a- long- Sing- a- long,” when my family packs the house with friends, neighbors, snacks, music, and holiday cheer! My mom hands out sing- along song sheets and instruments borrowed from her kindergarten classroom, and leads the group in song while wearing a microphone head-set! My dad accompanies the shenanigans on the piano. My stomach is guaranteed to hurt from laughing and my face from smiling year after year!” – Kristen S.

“I have loads but one that really stands out for me was helping decorate my Nana’s Snow Village set. She had it all around her house. And we enjoyed looking at the houses and people all lit up. My Nana would also bring my cousins and I out for a holiday tea lunch in Long Grove. We would put on dresses, wear hats, and enjoy tea and little sandwiches. It was so special. She has gifted me some of her Snow Village houses now. I love setting them up (in careful places ofcourse) and watching my kiddos stare and smile at them.” – Maddy C. 

“My favorite Holiday tradition is getting together for our annual cookie baking weekend where we bake 10 different types of Holiday cookies, assembling them on a giant plate to eat at the Christmas Eve party.” – Rebecca M.

My favorite holiday tradition is going to church at midnight on Dec 12th with my mom (always hopeful the rest of the family would join us) to celebrate Dia de la Virgen de Guadapule (The day of the Virgin of Guadalupe) who is Mexico’s patron saint. Even on the years I was not able to join my mom, I was involved in a reenactment play of the event and voiced the Virgin’s voice in Spanish and English for the community. – Ruby L.

“My favorite holiday tradition from my childhood was putting up christmas lights outside with my dad on the Sunday after Thanksgiving!”    – Shahana

“Every Christmas we participated in a Secret Santa where we secretly chose a name and then left little Christmas gifts at their door. Nobody knew who their secret Santa was until like a week before Christmas. They were some great memories dropping off gifts and trying not to be caught.” – Sheila T.

“My favorite holiday tradition as a kid was always coming home from my grandmas on Christmas Eve to leave out cookies we made for Santa. My favorite tradition as an adult is an ornament exchange between my husband and I we do every year that reminds us of something that happened or we enjoyed throughout the year to look back and reflect on!” -Stephanie C

“My most vivid childhood Christmas memory was when my dad decided to burn the Christmas tree in the family room fireplace! Yep, he thought he’d just slowly keep shoving it further into the fire while it slowly burned but POOF, up it went and we almost needed a NEW house! We teased him EVERY year about this!” – Sue

We hope that all our families, staff and communities have a very safe and magical holiday season!  

With love and holiday cheer, BDI Playhouse 



Turkey Time (as referred to by many of our kiddos) is just around the corner and it is either met with happy or anxious anticipation by children and adults!  A family member announces every Thanksgiving that this is her least favorite holiday because of how overwhelmed she feels with all the food options.  She says the anxiety starts weeks before the big day.  She has the ability to identify, process and express her anxiety related around a holiday.  Imagine, now, a child with the same feelings.  What might his or her anxiety look like?

Anxiety signs in kids:

  • Crying
  • Fleeing the table
  • Poor Sleep
  • Upset/outbursts more frequently or higher intensity than is typical
  • Irritability
  • Grimacing
  • Sweating
  • Yelling
  • Wide eyes
  • Gagging or vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tense or jittery body
  • Frequent urination

So, what can you do to help make this time less anxious for your child?

How you can help:

  • Take the pressure off! No need to focus on or force the idea of sitting down for a large meal with relatives!  Keep it casual for your kid
  • Validate feelings of discomfort around the holiday
  • Brainstorm food avoidance strategies for use at the Thanksgiving table with your child
  • Interact with Thanksgiving foods without eating them
  • Talk about it- set expectations and boundaries for the holiday festivities
  • Take breaks from the commotion 
  • Turn the focus- make the focus of the holiday less about the food and more about family, crafting/decorations, gratitude, whatever is important to your family!
  • Engage in calming strategies throughout the month.  Examples of calming strategies include heavy work, deep pressure, auditory supports, movement strategies, deep breathing/relaxation strategies, tactile bins, lighting adjustments, and visual toys.  These strategies can be used around meal time and outside of meal time.

Turkey time can be a successful holiday for your entire family, especially if you identify and prepare for the day ahead of time!  If you’d like additional resources, please set up a free screening with one of our occupational therapists at BDI playhouse!

Written by Maggie Lord MS, OTR/L, and Jessica Keenan, MA, CCC-SLP/L, CLC

Spooky Speech

Speech Language Pathologists love a good theme!  Themes can unite all of our kiddos but allow scaffolding for every child’s needs.  They also allow for perfect home carryover for all our families!  Here are a few spooky speech activities that you can do with your children at home or in your community to promote speech and language development.



Books are fabulous!  You can target specific vocabulary, different grammar (i.e. prepositions), comprehension, sequencing, feelings, and speech sounds!  An example of a spooky themed book is Pete the Cat: Trick or Pete, an interactive book with flaps.  We love to practice our speech sounds with this particular book!  For example, the t sound is on every page with CAT and PETE!  


Sensory Bins:  

You cannot go wrong with a sensory bin!  They hold children’s attention and their bodies in one space.  Sensory bins can also encourage some spooky speech with what we call “focused stimulation”, when you pick a few words to target over and over again during play!  Spooky speech sensory bins can easily be made from items around your house or a few clicks from amazon! If you are in need of some inspiration Busy Toddler has fantastic options. 



Technology does not have to be a curse if used correctly!  There are so many books and programs that provide ample spooky speech opportunities! You can play Peppa Pig Pumpkin Party and pause the video, ask simple wh questions, name vocabulary items, make predictions, and try to recall details of the program!


Bingo Card:

A fan favorite at the clinic is using a free printable Halloween Bingo Card.  We use these for matching, naming, identifying, and speech sounds!  You can take the Bingo Card into your community (i.e. grocery store, on a walk, flashlight to find items around the house) for a scavenger hunt.  Target and Michaels have Halloween dollar-sticker-books that we use to say the spooky words as we match them to the bingo card. 


Halloween SweaterFestive Wear and Decor:

As cheesy as it may seem, children LOVE pointing out spooky vocabulary on clothing items and decorations.  If you are trying to be eco and/or budget friendly, we highly recommend looking at your local thrift store, facebook marketplace, or your parent’s house for the clothing and decorations!  Some of the best items come second hand!  Another more eco friendly, minimalist approach would be to get items that will be re-purposed or consumed!  I.E. a pie pumpkin, a wreath that can be decorated for all season with items found in nature! 

If you feel like your child’s speech and language development isn’t spook-tacular and you’d like to speak with someone about your pumpkin’s speech and language development, please call 708-478-1820 or visit our website to schedule a free screening


Written by Jessica Keenan, MA, CCC-SLP/L, inspired by Kristen Santoro, MA, CCC-SLP/L

Be Your Child’s Best Valentine

Love is in the air, and Valentine’s day is the perfect opportunity to show your child just how much you love them! While February can be a busy time for families, building in a little extra love for your little one this Valentine’s day can be easy and fun, in addition to bringing you closer together while progressing development and growth!


  1. Gratitude Attitude:

    Experiencing gratitude is more than just saying “thank you” when handed something. It’s a strategy to reset even the youngest minds and focus on favorable aspects of life! Modeling appreciation for what you have will build your child’s ability to focus thoughts on thankfulness and positivity. You can do this for your child by pointing out your grateful outlook on items, people, actions, by having your children assist you in giving/donating, and asking your child to reflect on meaningful aspects of their day! In addition, you can thank your child for what they bring you sincerely and often.

  2. Be Present:

    In a world of distraction and instant-gratification, taking time to be “in the moment” with your child is irreplaceable. Put the technology away for a few minutes a day, take your child’s lead in a game, and bring yourself into the moment with intention! Teaching your child to be mindful and present during play is as easy as leading by example. Your child will find deeper connection with you as you are finding meaning in your time together.

  3. Giving Guidelines:

    Being your child’s best Valentine does not mean giving your child gifts or giving in to their every demand. Children thrive on clear expectations and rules, as they use consistent guidelines to determine how to best behave and make choices. Without these clear guidelines, your child will have to work extra hard to grow and learn. Allowing your child to guide their play, interactions and behaviors within the parameters you have set will let them truly shine in a confident manner!

  4. Perfecting your Praise:

    We can show our love for our kids by reminding them how fabulous they are, but the more specific we are the greater love they feel! Your child craves attention from you, and the best way to give it is highlighting specifics within their performance that you loved the most! Instead of saying “Good job”, you can comment that “I really liked how you brought your bowl to the sink after you were finished”, or “You worked hard on that project, I especially like the extra glitter you added!” These specific praise phrases, when offered appropriately and often, increase your child’s sense of accomplishment and foster a greater sense of self!

  5. Calming the System:

    Showing love for your child by being with them in their hardest moments can be challenging, but understanding what your child’s body needs is the first step! Some simple ways to help your child calm their body and their mind when things are escalating include letting them push/carry heavy objects, playing in various textures (play dough, rice and beans, water), bear hugs, turning down the lights, putting on some lovely smelling lotion, or putting on a quiet song. Valentine’s day will be especially positive with a relaxed and calm system.

  6. Taking Pause:

    True love leaves you feeling confident and supported, and sometimes that means letting your child find success in the little things. Before rushing to your child’s aid with stubborn socks or a collapsed block tower, take pause. Give your child a moment to problem solve, and allow them miniature failures within the safety of your love, because the love they will feel for themselves when they overcome a challenge will be magical!

  7. Building “Occupations”:

    For children, finding occupations (or things they want and have to do in their day) can require some assistance from you. Some children do not have enough of a role in the household management or responsibilities, and others have too little time for free play. Finding love through engagement with your child is a special way to be together. Learning to love something while working alongside your child will let your love grow! Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new occupation or hobby too!

So, while the candies and treats are tempting, allow your child to feel a more significant and unending love through their favorite Valentine–YOU!

Written by: Maggie Lord, MS, OTR/L


Picky Eating

Why my Picky Eater Won’t Eat Your Cranberry Sauce

A letter to my well-meaning relatives around the holidays: Why my picky eater won’t eat your famous homemade cranberry sauce…

Dearest Relatives, 

We love seeing you around the holidays! Family is so important to us, and we look so forward to the warmth of a festive home, the scents of dinner cooking in the oven, and the time interacting with our family to celebrate these special days.

This time of year can be hard for my child. The hustle/bustle of gift shopping at crowded stores filled with sparkly and scented shelves and swarms of people sets my little one on edge. Bright lights that decorate your house are a lot of visual input for small, tired eyes. Hugs and kisses from relatives is a squeezy experience all it’s own. My child spends the holiday season overwhelmed, and the family parties are no exception. 

Then comes dinner time.

Days were spent preparing your famous cranberry sauce. You bought special cranberries, soaked them, washed them, mashed them. I’m sure you bought a unique ingredient at the ONE special store that carries it, and you got it JUST before it went out of stock. There was mixing and cooking and chilling. The beautiful treat was placed in the perfect serving dish so your entire family would be able to enjoy your masterpiece.


At dinner, my child has trouble sitting politely at the table. After keeping it (mostly) together during the appetizer/pre-dinner activities, my child is quite jazzed. His system has a hard time processing all of the aspects of the evening that have lead up to the main event that is dinner. Asking them now to sit nicely in their chair next to their siblings/cousins/relatives is a feat meant for champions alone. And then they are faced with a gorgeous plate full of “delicious” food, including your precious cranberry sauce, and fear strikes his heart. And mine. 

**Please don’t make a scene, please behave, please let us get through this meal without an upset**

All my pleading cannot account for the fact that this food is my child’s demon, his largest aversion, his highest obstacle, his “Everest.” Maybe he is not ready to face it today, even if (especially if) it is a holiday. Maybe he will gracefully leave your cranberry sauce on his plate and eat around it, maybe he will run and hide under the table in the other room.

My child has difficulty feeling the cranberry sauce in his mouth and is fearful to put it between those teeth for fear of choking or losing it in his back cheeks. Sometimes my child is unable to coordinate his tongue in order to move those berries around in his mouth to properly chew or swallow that goop. It could also be that the texture of wet, mushy berries surrounded in unidentifiable glop is far too intimidating to place in his mouth and swallow. It’s also very possible that the scent of the sweet dish is off-putting to an ultra-sensitive nose. Perhaps the way your cranberry sauce jiggles is overly exciting for the eyes, or too closely resembles another feared food item. It could even be that today is Thursday, and we only eat yellow foods on Thursdays. 

Whatever the reason, please don’t take offense!

  • Please don’t offer more, or comment on my child’s lack of enjoyment of your prized dish.
  • I’m begging, please, please, please, don’t suggest my child eat these berries or ask him to “just try a bite”.
  • I would also love it if you did not snort judgment as I heat up the chicken nuggets in the microwave.
  • Let me help you understand what you are asking before you ask it. Be mindful of what this holiday and that cranberry sauce means to me and my child.

We love you, and one day we may also happily indulge in your cranberry sauce. Today may not be that day, but we are working towards that! First, we must master looking at new foods, smelling them, touching them, licking them, biting them, swallowing them, and smiling with joy at the taste. When that is accomplished, we hope that our dear child will eat every bite of your famous cranberry sauce, so we can all rejoice!

Until then, enjoy my child’s giggles, curiosity, love for all things bouncing/rolling, and for you (cranberry sauce not included)!

Happy Holidays,

Mother of a child with a zest for life, a goofy smile, a whit faster than light, and feeding difficulties

Written by: Margaret Lord OTR/L

If your child is a picky eater and mealtime is creating a challenge in your home, contact us for a free consultation.  You are not alone and we can help!

You have Questions. We have Answers.

Schedule a consultation by phone or at our Naperville – Aurora or Orland Park clinic here: