Toys for Blind or Visually Impaired Children

As children, many of us had a favorite toy. Whether it was a stuffed animal, building blocks or a toy car, it inspired our creativity, could entertain us for hours, and was an outlet to explore the world around us. This need for discovery and love of play is a universal part of being a child. While all children have different needs, likes and interests, the desire to play is constant! Play teaches children about themselves, their surroundings, and how to interact with others.

Toys and play:

  • Inspire children's curiosity to move and explore.
  • Promote awareness of people, places and things.
  • Encourage communication with others.
  • Provide opportunities for social and emotional growth.
  • Stimulate children's intellect, imagination and creativity.
  • Build skills for recreational activities and sports.

However, it's easy to take for granted how easily these skills are learned through sight. Children with visual impairments need additional support to learn these same skills and become familiar with their environments. Learning to play is the first step in this process and toys are wonderful outlets to open up the world of discovery and play. You can provide a valuable service to your community by becoming knowledgeable about the special needs of visually impaired children.

Each toy presents a unique play experience for a child. A toy that encourages one child's creativity and confidence may not be effective to another child. Here are some things to keep in mind when selecting the types of toys that will be most enjoyed by children who are blind or visually impaired and enhance their play experience.

Manufacturers determine the age ranges for their toys for children who are not blind or visually impaired; these ranges may not be appropriate for the children you have in mind. When parents are selecting toys for special needs children make them aware that children develop skills at varying rates and that a child's own interests and skills are an excellent guide for your choices. They should be imaginative when selecting toys for children with special needs who may enjoy a unique way of having fun with their toys.

Children benefit the most when these toys are combined with playful interaction; parents can be a part of this experience by making playtime a priority! Most importantly, remember there is no substitute for sensible adult supervision of children's play, and that it is advisable to seek input from a physician, occupational or physical therapist if a child with special needs has fine or gross motor impairments, or other health concerns.

Apply these guidelines when helping parents to select toys that are fun and suitable for children who are blind, visually impaired or have special needs.

Parents should consider toys that:

Talk or produce sounds. Children with visual impairments will benefit from the influx of technology in today's toys. Toys that talk or imitate real life noises attract children's attention to the world of sounds, help them understand cause and effect, and teach them to use auditory senses effectively as they grow.
Have bright colors, high contrast and emit light. Toys with simple contrasting patterns of lines and shapes that are brightly colored or light up during play stimulate children to use their vision to its best potential.
Feature a variety of interesting surfaces and textures. Toys that have dials, switches, buttons and other surfaces that are fun to touch and operate encourage children to use their fingers and hands to explore. Textures introduce children to the way everyday objects feel. Interesting, flexible or rubbery surfaces make dolls, rattles and balls easy to play with and appealing.

Stimulate thinking and creativity. Puzzles, building toys and railroads help children discover how parts make up the whole, and stimulate their imagination to plan and build. Toy letters and numbers marked in Braille and phonics toys introduce children to the wonders of learning through reading. Craft kits and art supplies help enhance creativity.

Encourage movement and exploration. Climbing and riding toys, athletic equipment and other action toys engage children in movement and exploration. Physical activity promotes the growth of strong muscles for walking, running and sports; toy rattles, hand puppets and musical toys enhance the development of fine motor and hand skills, and facilitate graceful and easy movement.

Promote cooperation, sharing and social growth. Games and role-playing activities engage children in play with their friends, family and teachers. Games that encourage cooperation and sharing build the foundation of friendship and relationships with others.

Develop awareness of people, places and things. Dolls, stuffed animals, puppets, vehicles and play towns introduce the sights and sounds of daily living, acquaint children with the jobs that people do at home and at work, and stimulate creative role-play.

Remember, playtime can be an enriching, educational and, most importantly, fun activity for all children.

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