Toys can build connections between kids with special needs and their peers.
By Ellen Metrick
“Inclusion” is a popular word used around children with special needs. It reflects the emotional need of every human being to be included and the innate desire to share experiences, and there is perhaps no better place to put the concept of inclusion to work than through toys and play.
Hot categories of toys this year are electronics, plush, arts and crafts and sports, so let’s explore what’s new in these areas and how they can bring kids together.
Electronic toys are getting more interactive, intuitive and realistic, and children of all abilities can play together with these better-than-ever techno-toys.
Beamz Interactive Music System ($349.95, www.thebeamz.com) is breaking the rules on making music, and Bluetooth capabilities make the latest Beamz Player even more accessible than its predecessor. This music maker is great for multiple kids to play together and includes 20 songs to jumpstart rocking fun musical experiences. The Home Play Bundle includes 10 activities and lots of information on how making music with others can contribute to fun and togetherness with family and friends.
Creative Baby iMat My Animal World ($29.99, www.creativebabyinc.com) might look like just a mat, but it is much more! The i-Mat teaches language and learning as babies interact and explore on the interlocking foam floor tiles, with a visual array of global animals just waiting for a touch of the talking Voice Pen to activate learning games. The mat is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish, and includes two games and exploration exercises.
LeapFrog Read with Me Scout ($34.99, www.leapfrog.com) is a seriously cute, interactive puppy that helps kids to team up with each other and have literacy adventures. Trained to know five board books, Scout asks more than 70 comprehension questions that motivate kids to develop reading skills. When played with friends, this dog becomes a great leader of the pack.
SpinMaster Zoomer ($88.97, www.spinmaster.com) is another new breed of robotic canine companion. Disguised as a darling Dalmatian, this eager-to-please pooch is a great playmate to help kids polish their communication and language capabilities. Realistic and just waiting for a command to speak, sit, lie down, roll over or shake, Zoomer understands English, Spanish and French.Kids love to take turns training this little guy, and might not realize how much they are learning, too.
Children of all abilities can benefit from the interaction and enjoy the soft, soothing sensation of having a plush buddy there whenever and wherever they need it.
Folkmanis Piggy Puppet ($27.99, www.folkmanis.com) is part of a line that has perfected the balance of realism and being über cute. Equipped with a lifelike sounding grunter that activates with a squeeze of his pot belly, this cuddly little porker will have kids rolling on the floor laughing as he comes to life with a workable snout, mouth and front trotters. Puppets are a great tool to help kids express emotions and share experiences through pretend play together.
MI Toys MILO Bear ($199, www.milobear.com) was designed with the idea that all children learn differently in mind. Children of all abilities can use this buddy bear to explore language and physical, social and emotional development. MILO is filled with opportunities to communicate, interact, develop and have fun together. His colorful, kid-friendly pockets feature MILO’s Smart Logos that align with eight different ways that kids can be smart.
Senseez Furry Pillow ($39.99, www.senseez.com) is a plush pillow built to comfort kids who need a sensory stimulation and feedback. The pillow vibrates when pressure is applied through squeezing, sitting or lying on the pillow. It’s perfect for kids who need sensory input to focus during homework or while playing a game with another child.
Arts and Crafts
Working with art projects lets kids’ creativity take the lead, and is a great way for kids to interact with each other socially while working cooperatively together or independently on separate projects.
Creative Adventures Sand Art Kits ($16.99, www.creativeadventurekits.com) combine the sensory element of sand with the fun of crafts. Kids can create with 12 vivid colors of sand and can use templates provided to make their own original designs. Easy-to-understand instruction cards provide suggestions for basic techniques, plus six special effects for more sophisticated artists
Glittertoos ($15.95, www.glittertoos.com) combine the fun of temporary tattoos with the sparkle of glitter. Young kids can express their style and entertain themselves and their friends by choosing an outline, filling it in with glue and then using a paint brush to add the glitter onto the skin. Children of all abilities love sharing this experience with siblings or friends, and the long-lasting tattoos are a great reminder of the good time had by all.
Physical activity is good for de-stressing and calming kids and helps them maintain focus after getting some energy out. These products will help get kids of all abilities moving.
Spooner Boards ($44.95, www.spoonerboards.com) combine the balance of a skateboard with the gliding of a surfboard. Kids can balance and guide these cool boards indoors or out on carpet, grass, gravel or cement while polishing their moves and building balance and coordination.
Strider Bikes ($109-$169, www.striderbikes.com) pedal-less bikes are an easier way for kids of all abilities to master the first skills of riding a bike. Children push with their feet and move forward then gradually lift their legs and coast for as long as comfortable, building their confidence and balance. Great way for a new biker and a pro to cruise the sidewalks together.
Waboba Water Balls ($7.99-$9.99, www.waboba.com) are amazingly versatile balls that were designed to bounce and skip off water. Kids can play in knee-high to waist-deep water to enjoy these animated spheres of splashing fun. Moving through water takes more energy, so kids get a healthy workout, and this is a fun activity for all abilities to do together.
Ellen Metrick is Director of Industry Relations and Partnerships for the nonprofit National Lekotek Center, a leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Visit them at www.ableplay.org, and find them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ableplay) for the latest updates.