Kids may look at toys as marvelous diversions, something that entertains and delights them. But parents and educators know that toys have a secret mission – helping kids grow, learn and make important developmental milestones. That's why toys are particularly important for kids with special needs. The right toy can help a child struggling with sensory issues, dexterity and a myriad of other areas.
The folks at the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making play accessible for children with disabilities, have teamed up with Toys R Us to create the Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. When you shop, be sure to bring it along. Use these questions to help you pick out a toy that brings delight and development.
1. Multi-sensory appeal. Does the toy respond with lights, sounds or movement to engage the child? Are there contrasting colors? Does it have a scent? Is there texture?
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2. Method of activation. Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration? What is the force required to activate? What are the number and complexity of steps required to activate?
3. Places the toy will be used. Will the toy be easy to store? Is there space in the home? Can the toy be used in a variety of positions such as while a child is reclined or in a wheelchair?
4. Opportunities for success. Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way? Is it adaptable to the child's individual style, ability and pace?
5. Current popularity. Is it a toy that will help the child with disabilities feel like "any other kid"? Does it tie in with other activities like books and art sets that promote other forms of play?
6. Self-expression. Does the toy allow for creativity, uniqueness and making choices? Will it give the child experience with a variety of media?
7. Adjustability. Does it have adjustable height, sound volume, speed and level of difficulty?
8. Child's individual abilities. Does the toy provide activities that reflect both developmental and chronological ages? Does it reflect the child's interests and age?
9. Safety and durability. Does the toy fit with the child's size and strength? Does it have moisture resistance? Are the toy and its parts sized appropriately? Can it be washed and cleaned?
10. Potential for interaction. Will the child be an active participant during use? Will the toy encourage social engagement with others?
For more assistance in selecting toys or play activities for a child with disabilities, visit the National Lekotek Center.