The AblePlay Blog Has Moved!

After many great years of posting content here on this blog, we have moved to a new location! It is the same AblePlay you love, it is just our website that has changed. All of our new blog posts and some of our favorite old ones can be found here. Come check us out and let us know what you think!


October 27, 2015 at 9:51 AM Leave a comment

Stress Busters

The pressures of school can be tough on kids, especially those with special needs. Play can help children relax, recharge their batteries and take on new challenges.

It’s hard to remember a time when kids had more stress in their lives. Schools are forced to pressure children more and more to pass tests to keep their stream of funding. Our educational system is also under mounting pressure as the global ranking for America’s schools continues to trend downward. Homework has trended upward with little impact.

What research has proven again and again is that kids learn best through play. Guided play advances cognitive skills like language, as well as social skills such as emotional regulation. Group play experiences also greatly impact a child’s
coping abilities, empathy, mood and resiliency. Despite evidence linking play to development, parents, educators and policy makers have allowed children’s play time to drastically erode in the last two decades.

Play functions as an antidote to the pressures of life, including school anxiety. Here are some product ideas to help kids defuse stress and refresh their bodies. These suggestions are especially beneficial for children with special needs who have their share of school struggles

Sing, dance and play music
Music therapists know the power of listening to and making music. Rhythms are a way to cut up time just like learning fractions. Music is a mood enhancer, and making music empowers and engenders the creative spirit. It also positively affects attention and focus. Here are some products that strike the right chords with kids.


Beamz is an interactive music system that lets kids use
their hands to interrupt four laser beams, thus creating
their own original music and melodies. It’s a great way
to encourage young bodies to move rhythmically.
Schoenhut’s Band in a Box inspires movement as well as music with a set that combines maracas, a triangle, bells and a tambourine. Kids can knock the kinks out of their day as they shake away on the instruments.


The Rhythm Tree Music Therapy set is an interactive music set that introduces music and all its benefits to children with special needs, promoting developmental milestones through engaging tunes. The set includes a DVD, instructions and instruments.


Write their feelings out
Journaling, drawing and exploring emotions through writing are good ways to channel concerns and clear them out.
Carolina Pad combines the function of school supplies and the fun of fashion-making with notebooks, folders and more that come alive with color and patterns. They are great for journaling the day and putting it away. The Fundanoodle series of writing tablets and multi-activity kits also inspires kids to develop school skills while having a whole lot of fun.
Weight can feel great
Weighted pads can help kids with sensory processing issues find some calm and comfort.
Covered in Comfort makes a series of weighted items ranging from lap pads to pencil pals that provide proprioceptive input, pacifies some kids’ nervous systems, promotes focus, and diffuses tension by providing weight and pressure.


Move, just move
Encourage movement in children any way y ou can. It is the best defense against depression.

Pedz is a pedometer that looks like a frog, and can inspire little ones to leap into action.
Fidget, squeeze and cuddle
Sometimes a child just needs to cuddle and teU her woes to a secret pal. Other kids need their hands kept busy to free up their brains to focus.


WishPuppies are soft plush and the perfect size for a canine hug or two. The secret pocket in their soft underbelly is a place for a child to bury worries or
shelter secrets.


Squigz by Fat Brain Toys are aptly described as “fun little suckers,” and they are just that. These sensory, rubbery connectors can entertain tiny hands, promote focus, provide sensory stimulations and pop
when pulled apart. Great for kids whose hands need to be kept busy.
Sqwishland Bracelets are fun, flexible bracelets that can be customized with different squishable animal characters. They’re soft, pliable and fidget-friendly.


This article was written by Ellen Metrick, Director of Industry Relations & Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center. Lekotek is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit for a complete listing of toys for children with special needs and follow us on Facebook!

Source: Educational Dealer Magazine, June/July, 2013

July 29, 2014 at 6:30 AM Leave a comment

Sense-ational ASTRA Marketplace!


First of all thanks to all attendees of the Connect Children with Special Needs to Toys and Games on Your Shelves session in Nashville.   I hope you’ve had a chance to download the handouts. I welcome any feedback, questions or input you might have on these materials.


After the presentation, our focus went to checking out the products from manufacturers and looking for those that might develop special skills.   We were not disappointed! One of the categories we felt was well represented in the products we saw was sensory play toys.


What is sensory play?   The simple answer is that it is play that allows children to focus, explore, engage, activate and possibly be delighted by their five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.  


Why are sensory experiences important?

Sensory play encourages children to explore through their senses and through this exploration they come to better understand the world around them. Some children with disabilities may have an aversion to or over-active sensory preference. Other children may need more sensory input in order to register it.


You can think of sensory input in the same way you think of providing nutrition to kids and look for way to enrich a child’s sensory diet. For example newborns crave oral exploration and everything seems to end up in their mouths. They then begin to explore picking things up, letting them fall and enjoy the sensory experience of touching, watching and hearing things drop to the floor.


Every person has preferences in the sensory input they choose to rely on most when processing information and learning. Encouraging children to explore sensory play helps them hone in on their preferred learning technique and develop new ones.


Children with special needs are not the only ones who benefit from sensory play—all children benefit. Here are ten reasons why:


  1. Allows kids to explore new things
  2. Assists them in understanding objects
  3. Helps interpret experiences
  4. Stimulates memory
  5. Facilitates the collection of data
  6. Accelerates learning
  7. Develops the sense they are using
  8. Creates body awareness
  9. Soothes and provides solace
  10. Stimulates, wakes up and excites


Here are a few sense-sational products we found in the aisles of the ASTRA Marketplace:


  • Rubbabu Inc. Balls, Playsets- Rubbabu flocked products feel like crushed velvet and provide you with a tactile touch while playing. The play sets offer different sets like trains, farm animals, etc. with play mats that correspond with the toys.
  • Waba Fun Bubber- silky, ultra-light compound that is fun to explore and mold.
  • Waba Fun Kinetic Sand- feels just like wet beach sand that you can explore and mold, doesn’t stick or stain and is easy to clean up
  • Hygloss Products Dough Language Kits- Activity cards with dough that you shape to make the letters, numbers, etc. on the cards. Great for tactile learning.
  • Glittertoos- Glitter Tattoos. Got a smiley face in blue and green on my arm to really experience this from the tickle of the glue and glitter to the tactile feel of the brush on my skin.


Lastly, don’t forget to check out and order your Guide to Toys for Children with Special Needs through ASTRA. It’s a great resource to have on hand when customers come into your stores needing special assistance.


This article was written by Ellen Metrick, Director of Industry Relations and Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center. Lekotek, is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit for a complete listing of toys and find us on Facebook!

 Source: Published on American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) 

July 28, 2014 at 11:30 AM Leave a comment

Play Outside! Fun Ideas for Creative and Imaginative Play

ASTRA---Outdoor-Play-Toys_sAs computer screens, tablets and mobile devices continue to infiltrate the lives of younger and younger children, there are health supporters and movements that are reminding parents, educators and caregivers the importance of children going outside to play.  


According to outdoor advocate Richard Louv, and author of “The Nature Principle,” and “Last Child in the Woods,” “While the study of the relationship between mental acuity, creativity, and time spent outdoors is still a frontier for science, new data suggests that exposure to the living world can even enhance intelligence.  At least two factors are involved:  first, our senses and sensibilities can be improved by spending time in nature; second, the natural environment seems to stimulate our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative.”

Add to our obsession with electronics the overscheduling that overtakes many families, along with the urge to keep children safe, and it’s little wonder that many kids experience much of their lives framed by four walls around them.  This is particularly true for children with special needs.   So let’s encourage kids to get out and get real!

There is no more fertile a ground for a child to master his or her physical skills than running, leaping and jumping outdoors. There are great products out there to encourage outdoors sports and activities.  For kids who have physical disabilities or even those who are already active, there can be other outdoor play options.   So let’s explore a few. 

Park, Beach and Playground Play

Take the toy on a trip.  It is fun to think about making that board game even more exciting by taking it to a picnic table in the park.  Bubble toys are perfect for the outdoors and building blocks or construction toys become more real when surrounded by nature.  Mix it up a bit by using natural elements as pieces in the game or get extra points if the word you spell relates to outdoors or nature.

Here are some toys just waiting to get out of the box:

JUMBO Bananagrams –This letter game is great for outdoor play.  These large rubber tiles are well suited to stepping outside and come complete with their banana-like traveling pouch.

Little Tikes Bubble Machine—Outside bubbles soar with the wind, fly upwards and sparkle in the sunshine.  Great for chasing or just creating as kids watch them float along with their imagination.

Step 2 All Around Wagon—Take to the streets, parks or beaches with a mode of transportation all kids can appreciate.  Encourage young ones to take along friends – real of stuffed – to share the adventure.

Educational Insights Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game—What better way to experience squirrels playing than in a natural setting of trees and grass.  Add a squirrel spotting competition as a side game. 

Little Tikes TotSports Bean Bag Toss—Throwing a bean bag is easier than a ball.  It’s a great way to practice pitching and a good excuse to take over sidewalks or patios for this simple outdoor sport.

Hasbro K’Nex Lincoln Logs—Log cabins come alive in nature where gardens turn into wildernesses and back yards become the backwoods.


Creative Play Outdoors

Take the art making outside! This could be an art project inspired by the natural setting like an easel set up in a local park or taking pictures of natural scenes.   Crafty ventures can increase a child’s self-confidence in his or her ability to conceive, construct and create.  This type of play also allows him to explore emotions and express them in healthy, productive ways. 

Here are a few artistic toys that desire some time “out:”

Crayola Table Top Easel—Take this easel on a trip and let little budding artists paint the colors of nature.

Spin Master AquaDoodle Draw ‘n Doodle Jumbo Deluxe Mat—Spread this mat out on lawns or picnic tables and just add water to reveal the colors underneath.  No need to worry about spilling or splashing while doing outside drawing, doodling or otherwise depicting the beauty of nature.   

Melissa & Doug Scratch Art Sketch Pad Book –This spiral bound pad is perfect for roving to remote areas of the yard or far away fields.  Travel light with no paints or brushes.  Kids just scratch with the stylus provided as colors burst from behind the black background. 


Imaginative Play Outside

Being outdoors makes pretending more dynamic, adds diversity to the fun and introduces more elements of movement in the inventive or sociodramatic play scenarios.  Imaginative play is also an excellent way to teach negotiation skills, shared vision, group dynamics and the ability to strive for a shared play theme.

Here are some products can use some fresh air:    

Polaroid 300 Instant Print Camera—Kids can become instant nature photographers documenting the caterpillar as it crawls across the ground or capturing the butterfly before it flutters away. 

Fisher Price Kid-Tough Binoculars—Allow children to make a big deal out of exploring  the natural world with these durable binoculars crafted just for kids. Go on expeditions to nature preserves and or take with on a trip to the zoo.  Everything is more interesting magnified.    

The Singing Machine Portable Karaoke Machine—Make any yard an outdoor theater or outside steps a fresh-air stage.  Young ones can put on a show at any outdoor event.  This karaoke machine is as mobile as you need it to be and brings the entertainment to picnics and beach parties. 


This article was written by Ellen Metrick, Director of Industry Relations & Partnerships for the National Lekotek Center. Lekotek is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit for a complete listing of toys for children with special needs and follow us on Facebook!

Source: Your Neighborhood Toy Store Blog, July 15, 2013

July 25, 2014 at 11:30 AM Leave a comment

A Party to Help Parents Pick the Right Gift


Specialty toy retailers have to plan aggressively and creatively to carve out their share of holiday toy sales. Rather than compete head-to-head with big box stores that offer deep discounts, extended hours and layaway options on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, they should do what they do best – offer lots of value and sound toy advice. Reach out to your customers and invite them all in to make their holiday gift shopping easier. Last year, a suburban Chicago toy retailer did just that with an effective in-store after-hours event. Parents and Lekotek Play Specialists – who work with children of varying abilities each day in therapeutic play sessions – were invited to the store to mingle during an evening of education and entertainment. The owner and store staff members presented toys and toy categories they thought would be hot during the holiday season, and made themselves available to answer questions like “What’s right for my kids?” and “What more can you do for me?” Our Play Specialists, who are familiar with the benefits specific toys deliver and are experts on how they are played with by children, demonstrated products, shared creative play ideas, answered customer questions and offered gift suggestions. The event was a win/win for the store and for parents. Any toy retailer can take this concept and run with it. You could call it “Toy Demo Day While Parents Play.” Here are some of the elements – in addition to toy demonstrations – we thought would make it an annual hit.

A pre-Thanksgiving date

Capture some holiday dollars before parents’ social calendars fill up for the season. Promote it as a “Sneak Preview” and early purchase opportunity. The ASTRA-supported Neighborhood Toy Store Day is planned for Saturday, November 9. Consider joining this event and benefit from the promotions and publicity the association offers. For more information, visit

Expert-recommended products to play with

Check out the AblePlay website (, the National Parenting Publications Awards ( and ASTRA’s Best Toys for Kids List and Guide to Toys for Children with Special Needs ( Not only will they provide you with descriptions of toys you can highlight, they also offer features that make them special. Refer to these resources often and talk to parents about them to add credibility to your toy recommendations. Distribute your suggestions, and be ready to take early orders (early-order discount incentives can propel sales


You as the guru

As your community’s resident toy guru, you can offer a presentation on the benefits toys offer and the ways they go beyond their instruction sheets in play scenarios. Or consider sponsoring an outside speaker. That would free you up to talk one-on-one with customers, offer them purchase recommendations, and just generally build relationships with them without appearing to sell.

Enthusiastic helpers

To fuel your employees’ enthusiasm for the event and the products they’ll be selling there, have an employees-only Game and Play Night prior to your kickoff event. Close the shop and let the staff hop. Hold creative play competitions with prizes, share selling ideas, and ask each staff member to pick his or her favorite toy or two, and talk about why they love them.


Parent pampering!

Moms and dads, particularly those who have kids with special needs, crave, need and totally appreciate any pampering that comes their way. Make sure to serve refreshments at your event and, as a bonus, offer treats that can range from chair massages to ice cream. Cross market your products by sharing your discount coupons with other retailers, and vice versa.

“Special privileges”

Capture the e-mail addresses of your event’s attendees by offering them a shout-out when a limited quantity of a hot new toy comes in.

Premium wrapping services

Take gift-wrapping a step further by offering to wrap and hold purchases for pick-up on Christmas Eve day to help parents keep the element of surprise for their kids.

An event for parents held early in the holiday shopping season will make their toy shopping less stressful, more fun and just plain easier for customers to purchase their gifts from you. After they’re pampered, treated and exposed to quality play with quality toys, why would they shop anywhere else?

This article was written by Ellen Metrick, Director of Industry Relations & Partnerships for the National Lekotek CenterLekotek is a not-for-profit and leading authority on toys and play for children with disabilities. Lekotek is dedicated to providing children of all abilities access to the benefits of play experiences. Visit for a complete listing of toys for children with special needs. Follow us on Facebook!

Source: EDPlay. September/October, 2013

July 25, 2014 at 6:30 AM Leave a comment

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