Tanna's Top 10 Traditional Toys (with a Twist!)

Baby Wonderland Gifts
 As promised in an earlier post  (Awesome Holiday Gifts for Special Kids), here is my list of the simplest but most versatile, traditional toys for targeting cognitive, physical and communication skills while playing with kids who have special needs.  Many of these toys can be adapted to suit the level of support needed by your child.  They don't come with all of the bells and whistles of a computerized toy or iPad, but I think they have their place as essentials in every child's toy box. :) As a speech therapist, I NEVER leave home without them!  These toys can be purchased at most toy stores (and even dollar stores), or you can buy them online here from Amazon. :) (Visit the SNEAK aStore for great toy ideas for special kids)

 1.  Bubbles
Bubbles entertain children of all ages!  They are a great way to practice fine motor skills like putting in and taking out, isolating a finger to pop, and pinching or grasping the bubble wand;  gross motor skills like stomping, jumping, swatting, and waving arms; and oral skills like rounding lips to blow.  You can also create many communication opportunities with bubbles by talking about what you see, do, and experience.  What do your bubbles look like?  Where are they going? How do they feel on your fingers?  Talking about the play experience models language for children in a context that is concrete and fun.  Use words like up, down, blow, in, out, stomp, pop, high, low, wet, dry, fun, yucky, and more!  Bubbles can be adapted to support children with motor limitations by using bubble machines, bubble blowers, or bubble wands that only require gross movements to work. 

 2.  Blocks 
Blocks are a great way for special kids to practice constructive play.  Simple, flat blocks versus those that needd to interlock in a certain way (e.g., Legos, bristle blocks) are the best because of their flexible use.  Create towers, houses, farms, schools and buildings with your blocks.  Talk about what you are building, how it looks, and what you do in it.  Combine blocks with other toys to expand play experiences, such as crashing them with cars or using toy figures to pretend inside of the structures you have created.  Children can expand their imagination by using blocks to create symbolic things.  Talking about your play experience models language and actions for your child, giving them the words they need to understand and express the things they are doing while they play.  Use words like on, off, fall, build, up, high, down, low, oh no!, tall, big, little, etc...  Blocks can be adapted for children with physical challenges by adjusting the size and consistency of the block (soft or hard) depending on the child's needs and adding magnets or velcro to the blocks to help them stack more securely so that less precision is needed in building.  Check out these magnetic blocks!

 3.  Balls
Ball play is an early way to take turns with play mates.  It is also a great way to build gross and fine motor skills and learn language.  Use different balls and talk about their differences to practice new words like big, little, soft, hard, and colors.  Combine balls with other toys to expand play, such as knocking blocks or pins down like a bowling game, throwing balls into clothes hampers or boxes for basketball, rolling under tables and over couches.  Using balls in different ways helps expand the language that you can model about the experience.  Balls can be adapted to suit different physical needs by using different sizes and shapes.  You can also use lighter or heavier balls depending on the needs of the child.  Some balls even come with holes to make them easier to grasp and throw (like the Oball).  Using balloons as balls is a nice way to help children with motor challenges get the time they need to catch a ball(because the balloons float). 

 4.  Books
Choose books specifically for the learning level of your child.  Books are a great tool to learn new words, practice answering questions, and explore new people, places, items, and actions.  Books with simple, repetitive language are great for teaching early literacy skills and for setting a stage for communication.  Don't be confined by the words written on the page, you can always change a book to suit the interests and learning level of your child with just a little imagination.  Let loose and use silly voices, sounds, and songs to help engage your child.  Encourage interaction with the book by pointing to pictures, pretending with the pictures, and acting out the actions in the story.  Books can be adapted for children with physical challenges in a variety of ways, including adding binder clips or velcro between pages to make them easier to turn and securing books to a table top easel so that they are easier to see and flip through. 

 5.  Mr. Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head is another great, versatile, constructive and pretend play toy!  Practice body part names and concepts like putting in and taking out.  Talk about spatial concepts like the eyes are over the nose, the ears are on the side, and the shoes are on the bottom.  Use larger sets of Potato Head pieces to compare the differences between eyes, shoes, and ears, such as their shape, size, and color. To make Mr. potato easier to grab and hold, attach a handle on his back with a shower curtain ring or wooden knob by using hot glue. You can also use velcro on the head and pieces (soft side on the head, bumpy on all of the pieces) to help the pieces stay in place.  Once you build your Potato Head pieces, combine him with other toys to expand pretend play.  Have him crash your block tower, make him a meal with play utensils and food, or take him for a ride on a toy car! 

 6.  Crayons & Paper
Other than the obvious use of coloring with the crayons on the paper, I like to use this simple toy to expand the play of other toys.  If you are playing with a train, draw a train track for it to chug on!  If you are playing with a rubber duck, how about drawing a pond for him to swim in!  Using drawn environments with physical toys helps kids meld the lines of real and abstract and really gets their brains making connections!

 7.  Play Doh
Play Doh can be used with children of young ages as long as you supervise!  This toy is a favorite of ALL kids and a great tool for enhancing many developmental skills (not to mention, a cool sensory experience).  The play and language modeling possibilities are limited only by imagination!  Use play doh as a tool to create a platform for pretending!

 8.  Toy Figures
Toy figures like animals, action figures, and people are also very open-ended toys for practicing pretend play.  They can be combined with other toys and settings in the home to create wonderful play scenes and opportunities for learning and communication. 

 9.  Common Objects Box
Dishes, toy food, a brush, keys, a hat-you name it!  Kids learn language and other developmental skills by watching daily routines and imitating them.  A clear plastic bin or drawstring laundry bag with a variety of common household objects and small toys inside is a great tool for open-ended play, pretending, and learning life skills. 

10.  Wooden Puzzles
Puzzles can be tricky for kids with special needs but I LOVE them for setting the stage for interaction.  Use wooden puzzles with large knobs that display pictures that interest your child.  Pretend with the puzzle pieces, hide them in pockets, containers, or around the house, and use silly voices and sounds to help engage your child in puzzle play.  You can adapt puzzles with small pegs for handles by adding rubber pencil erasers (the kind you put on top of your pencil when the eraser runs out) with hot glue to each peg.  This makes a nice surface for kids with motor challenges to grip pieces. 

Read more about these toys and buy them online at the SNEAK aStore.  :)  When you purchase items by linking to Amazon through the SNEAK aStore, you help support our blog at no extra cost to you. 

Want to know more specifics about how to adapt these toys and use them to play with your special child? 

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