Toy Selection Guide for Visual Impairment


Moving up and down the aisles of the toy stores or searching the web for just the right toy can be a daunting experience for even the savviest shopper. Families of children with visual impairments often ask for a list of toys that are appropriate for their children. At the Delta Gamma Center, we understand your frustration. In an attempt to make shopping easier, we feel the first step for parents and caregivers is to understand what makes a good toy and how a toy can be adapted, so parents can make educated decisions based on their child’s needs and preferences. With that said, here are some things to keep in mind when searching for the perfect toy:

1. What qualities does this toy have that might peak your child’s interest; for example, is it a favorite color, is it shiny or reflective, does it light up, does it react to the child’s touch, does it have sensory components: high contrast visual interest, sound, music, texture or smell?
2. Is the toy too complicated or over stimulating, meaning, is the toy visually too busy or does it do too many things at once that can overwhelm your child? For example, a toy with multiple colors and patterns as well as lights, music, movement and vibration may be too much stimulation.
3. Will the toy grow with your child? For example, a toy that has pairs of colored rings of high contrast and texture, initially can be good reach, grasp and teething toys. Later the toys can be used for matching and categorizing.
4. Does the toy offer a challenge? If the child has the cause and effect concept of pressing a button to turn on lights, sound or vibration, one toy of this type is okay but resist the urge to buy multiples that do essentially the same thing. Remember, play is how children learn. If the child has the skill of pressing a button to make something happen, look for a toy that can teach him a new skill, like pulling a lever or turning a dial.
5. Can the toy be adapted? For example, if it is a shape sorter, can the opening be outlined with puff paint to make it visually and/or tactually interesting? Toys may have built-in features that are already adapted for visually impaired. For example, magnetic or Velcro blocks and stacking poles with flat bases have features that stabilize the toy for a child with limited vision.
6. Does the toy match the child’s level of development? Look at the child’s ability level, not the age range on the box.
7. Toys that have features that are displayed in a row, like surprise boxes or light up pianos, are good for left to right orientation and scanning (pre-reading readiness skills).
8. Does the toy have an on/off switch? This can be invaluable if you are transporting the toy and don’t want to hear it go off every time you go over a bump. It also helps to save the life of the batteries.
9. Is the toy washable? With everything going into baby’s mouth, this is a feature that is worth keeping in mind.
10. Cost factor; is the toy worth the expense? If it is very expensive, will it last for a long time and grow with your child or have resale value? If it is inexpensive and disposable, then it may be worthwhile for the here and now.
11. Will the toy stimulate growth in an area that needs encouragement? For example, if the child is not mobile but the toy is and it is enticing to the child, then it may be worth its weight in gold.
12. Does the toy encourage independent play? For example, is this a toy that the child can play with unattended for a period of time?
13. Does the toy encourage imaginative play? For example, does the toy allow the child to be creative and to use his imagination or build imitative or pretend play skills?
14. What is the toy made of? Toys that are made of wood or textured material, for example, offer more interest and sensory opportunities than plastic. The pet department has a variety of textured and easily squeezed toys that are good for early manipulation and cause and effect skill development.
15. If possible, take your child to the toy store and try out the toy before you buy.
16. Is the toy safe? For example, are the parts large enough that the child can’t choke on them if he puts them in his mouth? Are the pieces firmly attached?
17. Remember, the best learning experiences a child can have are meaningful, hands-on, and interactive. Feeling an animal at the petting zoo, for example, is going to give more information and understanding than feeling the plastic toy model.
18. Toys don’t have to be store bought. There are many functional items in the home that children love to play with. Children with visual impairments may have to be shown initially that they exist and their location, then they can be free to explore. For example, pots and pans, wooden spoons and wire whisks stored in an accessible cabinet, make wonderful sounds and play opportunities for the child while mom or dad cooks. Drawers filled with Tupperware or plastic cups and bowls are great for teaching stacking and nesting skills.
19. Toys can be made with simple household items. For example, cut the lid from margarine tubs or other disposable containers to fit a round shape. Outline the shape in puff paint. The child can drop balls or colored pompons into the opening. Add more lids to expand skills; for example, cut out the shape of a square for blocks. Later add two shapes to one lid to work on discriminating circle and square. Another example; cover lids with different textures (sandpaper, bumpy corduroy, satin, etc.) and make doubles of each for matching. Use a ½ dozen muffin tin with matching textures to encourage sorting. Later the lids can be used as a simple memory game.
20. You! Yes, interaction between you and your child is better than any toy you could give.

Suggestions from Jo Russell-Brown, M.Ed., Teacher of Visually Impaired @ the Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairments 1750 S. Big Bend Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63117; jorussell@dgckids.org

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