‘Tis the season for kids wishing, gift giving and shopping! Lots of parents at our clinic ask for help in choosing toys. It’s wonderful when you can find that perfect toy that not only meets the child’s wishes but also supports developmental skills – a magical combination, indeed! So, just in time for your holiday shopping, here are a few tips for finding that special something for your special someone.
1. Consider you child’s strengths and struggles to choose toys that are best for his or her needs. Think about what your child loves as well as how your child is able to play with a toy. Make a list with three categories: What the child loves (interests, motivators, etc), what the child is good at (skills), and what the child needs to work on (weakness, delays). Then find a balance by providing toys that address each category. Be sure your child has toys that can be used easily and independently as well as toys that require a little help and present the “just right challenges” in play without frustrating the child.
2. Pay attention to recommended ages for toys and consider your child’s developmental levels to get a good match. Remember that a child’s skill levels may be scattered among different developmental areas. For example, your 6 year old may be incredible at doing puzzles and can handle those indicated for ages 10 and up. But the same child may struggle with gross motor skills and do better with those types of toys that are recommended for ages 3-5 years. Remember to advise family and friends of any discrepancies or needs in this regard lest they generalize that your child needs the same level of toys across the board.
3. Think about how the toy is used and how much flexibility is inherent in the toy related to what your child enjoys and what you want to encourage developmentally. The best deals for your money are those toys that offer a lot of flexibility in terms of how it can be used. This may mean that the toy can be adapted for play in different ways (for example, modifying board games to simplify rules) or whether the toy addresses many developmental areas.
4. Make sure that your child’s toys include a variety that provides for quiet time, social interaction, pretend play, motor skills development (gross motor and fine motor), cognitive and perceptual (visual) skills development. Sometimes children will get “stuck” and ask for only one kind of toy or toys with a very specific focus, such as trains or a favorite movie. It’s up to us as parents to help guide those choices, providing the right mix of toys that open up opportunities for new experiences and learning.
If you are looking for some resources beyond amazon.com or your favorite department stores, here are four sites I love for toy shopping:
Toys R Us has a wonderful Differently-Abled Toy Guide
Achievement Products has a wide variety of toys and gift ideas for special needs
Constructive Playthings has lists by type of toy, age or skill
Fat Brain Toys are wonderful products and they provide a detailed list of toys for special needs.