Sensory toys & play
Play and recreation are key to children in the early years for their development.
Children learn through play, and toys are designed to be aesthetically interesting. This in turn generates an interest to engage with the toy. It is important to bear in mind that a child with a visual impairment won’t have the same aesthetic experience with a toy as a sighted child.
For a child who has a visual impairment, try to approach play with a hands-on kinetic learning style. Also, you must consider a full sensory experience, making sure you incorporate activities or toys which are stimulating to the other senses. The skills that are learnt through play can be transferred to other aspects of the child’s life. This can help to develop an understanding of the world and promote interaction and social skills development.
“85% of early learning is visual. Typically, sighted babies observe the people and the events around them for weeks before they reflect back a smile or reach for an object. Young children with visual impairments miss out on receptive visual learning. They therefore often have significant cognitive gaps in their understanding of how the world works.”
Each child has different abilities and unique interests. Toys should prompt children to use their imaginations and spark their creativity.
Cause and effect
Cause and effect toys are good for children who have a sight impairment. Much pleasure can be taken from pressing the buttons and receiving audio feedback. They offer additional encouragement in learning about their environment and the different ways to explore it. Once your child finds a sound they like they will engage with exploring the toy and also enjoy the audio! It requires a bit of trial and error, so it may be worth trying to find a toy lending library first to test out which will be their favourites.
These toys often incorporate numbers, letters and animal sounds. This means something fun is also teaching them about some fundamentals in the foundations of learning.
If your child has problems with being overwhelmed by sound when out in busy or unfamiliar environments, then hand held versions of such toys are always a good idea to keep with you. Allowing the child to access the sounds by operating the toys are a great way to restore calm.
Colours and lights
Toys with bright or contrasting colours can encourage children to best use the degree of vision they have. Lights are also good to consider when selecting toys as this can also stimulate any useful vision; try using light up toys in dark environments.
Gross motor play
Climbing and riding toys promote physical activity, movement and exploration. This includes things like trampolines and rolling toys. These toys will help your child develop co-ordination, strength and encourage your little ones to crawl. To encourage energetic gross motor play, think about anything that will get your child balancing, climbing or jumping in a controlled way. Soft play environments promote this kind of play, so visit your local centre and see what your little one takes a shine to.
Find toys with different surfaces and textures. Toys with flexible or rubbery surfaces, such as balls, rattles, and dolls, appeal to children and encourage them to feel common objects. The more textures you can expose your child to at an early age the better. It will help in later life with issues surrounding tactile defensiveness and start to break down any future barriers early on.
Messy play and sensory activities are particularly important in the toddler years. The benefits from such activities create skills that can be easily transferred into everyday life as your child gets older, plus it is lots of fun! Messy play forms a significant part of the nursery curriculum.
Messy play helps to develop fine motor skills, understanding of the world through investigation and problem solving, and language and social skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive, much can be done using everyday household items and adapting toys.
It can be a great multi-sensory experience, however, for some children with a visual impairment, it can also prove challenging. Some children may have issues around using touch to explore, certain textures may trigger anxieties or reluctance to participate in such activities. The child may have been described as ‘tactile defensive’.
Key things to remember:
- Playing needs to be educational, but most of all, it needs to be fun.
- As a parent it is good for you to be involved with the playing so be as engaging, hands on, and talk as descriptively as you can.
- Music serves as primary feedback to a child with a visual impairment.
- Ask your local sensory impairment team or VI society if they have a lending library for toys, it’s a much more economical way to find the most enjoyable toys for your child.
- Safety first. Children with a sight problem tend to ‘mouth’ objects far longer than sighted children so be aware of this when choosing a toy.
- What does the toy represent? Think about using real life objects when doing a learning exercise. Handle the object, label the object, then use the object for its intended purpose.