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from Fall 97 issue

Toys, Glorious Toys!

By Jean Robinson, Family Support Specialist, TSBVI

This time of year parents, relatives and friends want to know what to buy a child with a visual impairment, especially if their child has additional impairments. It is never too soon to give your Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) Caseworker a developmental toy list, as the process usually takes 4-8 weeks. If possible, spend time reading over your child's IEP and talking with all his teachers and therapists to get their input and ideas. Find out what your child's favorite and least favorite activities are at school. What goal is she/he working on this semester? As a parent, you are learning your child's likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses in your daily caretaking. Next, think about the goal or purpose of the toy. Will this activity challenge and teach new skills, comfort and calm, require interaction with others, excite and exhilarate? Knowing the expected outcome in advance will help you have some control of your day. Most toys cover more than one of the developmental areas of motor, communication, cognition and socialization. Consider whether the toy can be used in a variety of environments and be adapted as your child matures.

The major toy manufacturers spend thousands of dollars researching toys for safety and developing age range recommendations. Think about your child's developmental age to guide you when roaming the toy stores. Believe it or not, I have taken children to toy stores and not bought them anything. Don't hesitate to spend time checking out toys to find out what kind of toys your child responds to best. The Little Smart computer games by V-tech are set up in the store for you and your child to play with before making a purchase. Please remember not to leave a toy alone with an infant unless it has been approved for a child under the age of three.

Any child can participate in noisy board games (Hungry Hippos, Game of Perfection $16, Bed Bugs, Hungry Frogs $10) if rules are adapted or ignored. Switches can be used to turn battery-operated games and toys on and off (Ablenet, Toys for Special Children). This type of activity fosters turn taking and interaction with age appropriate peers which reinforces communication and social skills. Switches are most effective when used to turn on/off household appliances such as a television, radio, fan, hair dryer, blender/mixer, etc. Matching games can be adapted by gluing on different textures or making designs or outlines with puff paint or glue.

Older children can play Twenty Questions ($13), Scattegories ($15), Trivial Pursuit and Yahtzee. Some popular games have been adapted with braille such as Uno, Monopoly, Scrabble, Checkers and a deck of cards (Lighthouse). Books on tape from the State Library or local bookstore and descriptive videos (DVS) are appropriate for all ages. Nerf sets and bell/beeper balls (Maxi-Aids) are great for encouraging your child to participate in group sports. All team members are blindfolded when participating in beep baseball and goal ball which is one way to adapt an activity. Other ideas are swimming lessons, horseback riding, gym membership, exercise equipment, fishing supplies and other hobbies.

Common household items can be used creatively with your child to teach him about his world. Try dry beans, raw rice, and macaroni for pouring instead of water. He will experience different sounds and textures and it may result in less of a mess for you to clean up! Include funnels, muffin tins, and measuring spoons and remember metal gives more feedback to your child. Metallic/Mylar pom-poms, wrapping paper, ribbon, balloons, and foil pie pans are among most infants' favorite toys. Hair curlers with prickles stick to a variety of textures along with hair. How about a complacent pet? Many young children need encouragement to feel different textures. Some textures are less offensive if put inside a zip-lock bag. Try hiding their favorite food, such as raisins or grapes in Cool Whip or cereal. If your child has light perception, hide flashlights (consider colored lenses) in a darkened room for her to find.

Clothespins are great for developing fine motor skills. They build finger strength for brailler use and writing activities. Make up a game with them by pinning them on clothes, paper, etc. and having your child take them off and put them in a bucket. It is a harder skill to pin them back on to an object, but some children will learn to do so.

The hardware store is another great place to find inexpensive gadgets for kids such as keys on a key ring, nuts and bolts, different size paintbrushes, and tools. Nail aprons are handy for sorting activities.

I can't count the hours I have spent in different Toys R Us stores but it remains one of my favorite activities. Here is what I found on my last visit. First, there were cases of Tickle Me Elmo ($30) which is great for getting responses from a child with multiple disabilities. Then I found these toys listed below:

Toys under $10

How about: Bubbles, slinky, koosh ball/kritter, nitro ball, hair ball, bumble ball, klixx fidget widget, top with light and sound, scented play-dough/markers, puff paint, glitter finger paint, or sponges. Also look for these things in variety stores, craft stores, and even in some grocery stores.

Old Time Favorites

Some of my favorite toys for infants include: Books with sound ($5-20), musical mobile ($20-50), Busy Starfish, Tumbling Teddy (1st Years, $5-8), Lullaby Light Show, Funny Sound Hound (Tomy, $5-15), Musical Lights `N Sound Gym, Lights`n`Sound Phone, Activity Keys (Fisher-Price, $7-37), Follow the Lights Keyboard, Melody Lights Go Round (Disney, $25), Touch & Play Teddy Bear (Child Guidance, $13), See 'n Say Touch & Sound Farm, Lullaby Lights Mirror (Mattel $23-30), Roll `N Rattle Ball, Jingle Jacks (Playskool, $5-10), Activity Center (Bluebox, $7).

Toddlers toys include: Most of the above plus puzzles with knobs/sound, wooden blocks, puppets, tape player/recorder with microphone ($35), Megaphone Voice Changer ($20), Pop-Up Farm, Peek `N Speak Teddy, Bubble Mower (Fisher Price, $13-20), Sonic Control Race Car (Bluebox, $8), Farm Families (board game matches animal sounds, $20), Magnetic Letters with braille, Light `N Surprise Laptop (Playskool, $4-17), xylophone ($10), and musical instruments. This age group thrives on riding, rocking, and push/pull toys. A sturdy push toy (shopping cart) can support a pre-walker and become a mobility device. A wagon is great for transporting an older child who doesn't walk. I have found that name brands such as Little Tykes, Fisher Price, and Playskool are sturdier for toys, especially if used outdoors, and worth the extra money. They are hot items at garage sales!

For kids in Elementary grades: Toss Across (Tyco, $20), Pop-o-matic Trouble ($10), Lite Brite ($15), Magnadoodle ($15-30), keyboards ($20-50), Simon ($20-38), remote controlled cars, electric race/train sets, video games, tape players, and cassettes.

Interesting Possibilities

Other great potential for fun: Gerber Magic Musical Doodler ($10), Fisher Price Write with Lights ($50), Chicken Limbo ($18), Silly Sound Stamper ($20), Zooper Sound Etch A Sketch ($20), Star Wars Light Saber Recording Pen.

The best gifts are of the heart, which means a gift of time. Record your voice or a familiar voice reading a favorite book. Your child can learn to listen to the tape when you are not available. Don't be afraid to ask others for gift certificates of time spent with your child. Give them suggestions of his/her favorite activity. Please call me if you need help finding a particular toy or want to share a new discovery at (512) 206-9418. I have spent over 8 years searching for different toys and equipment to meet developmental needs of children and may be able to help. I would also love to hear what works for you. Have fun playing with your child!

Resources / Catalogs

Below are listed a variety of places which offer catalogs or are a resource for toys :

Lighthouse for the Blind

Talking clocks/watches/calculators, braille games, cards, variable speed tape player/recorder


Toy Manufacturers of America & American Foundation for the Blind
Guide to Toys for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Toys R Us Toy Guide

Discovery Toys

Exceptional Teaching Aids

Raised-line coloring book, scented clay, Wikki Stix

Lekotech Toy Resource Hotline

Descriptive Video Service

Texas State Library


braille and twin reading books

National Braille Press

Braille books


Switches to adapt appliances/toys

Toys for Special Children

Constructive Playthings


Chinaberry Book Service

Music for Little People

The Best Toys, Books & Videos for Kids

How to adapt toys; available through Exceptional Parent Library

Send EMail to SEE / HEAR

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from Fall 97 issue

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Last Revision: July 30, 2002