10 Great Balance Toys for Children with Special Needs

October 23, 2013 at 2:19 PM Leave a comment

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Play: An Important Role in Child Development

Play provides children with potential and possibilities! The White Paper by the National Lekotek Center is a model for providing children with disabilities access to the benefits of play. “Play is essential to a young child’s health. As today’s children continue to experience pressure in their lives, play becomes even more critical. Play increases affiliation with peers, releases tension, advances cognitive development, and increases exploration. Play increases the probability that children will converse and interact with each other. During this interaction, children practice the roles they will assume later in life.” Kenneth R. Ginsburg M.D., M.S. Ed.

What is balance?

One of the key elements to gross motor skills is balance. Balance allows control of movements during stationary (static) as well as moving (dynamic) tasks like laying, sitting, crawling, walking, or running. Ears play a large role in balance due to the vestibular system which arises in the inner ear and is responsible for processing movement, changes in head positions and the direction and speed of movement. The vestibulocochlear nerve sends signals to the brain that control hearing and ultimately helps with balance. The ears receive assistance from the eyes, joints, and muscles too keeping bodies balanced and upright. Balance is something that needs to be learned through experimenting with body movements. There are many toys and play products that can motivate and encourage children to improve their balance. These toys and play products can help teach balance while sitting, standing or even moving- all critical skills for everyday life.

Toy ideas for balance while sitting, standing or moving:

Sitting

  1. Wee Blossom Rocking BowlKids can promote core and arm strength while using the rocking bowl to balance. Don’t worry! Kids won’t tip over. The rocking bowl can be used upside down to climb, sit, stand or even hide under during active and pretend play fun. The rocking bowl has a wave design so that kids can’t pinch their fingers. Price: $199.99
  2. Tumble FormsChairs like Tumble Forms offer security, durability, and adaptability for children to access the world around them independently. Tumble Forms give a child the ultimate positioning for accessibility during interactions with friends and family. Prices varied

 Standing

  1. Mega Bloks Mega PlayThis Mega Play set has two versions, “My Knight’s Castle” and “My Hello Kitty House.” Each set has oversized lightweight blocks for building and encouraging exploration which is great for children just learning to walk. Once built, the set is sturdy enough for a child to hold and maneuver around the sides promoting balance. Pretend play and cognitive development are also enhanced during play.  Price: $109.99
  2. Little Partners Learning TowerThe Learning Tower offers parents peace of mind when little ones want to help! The sturdy step stool is adjustable in height and has non-tip construction. It is big enough for two kids to share space to play or help out. The Learning Tower offers accessories like the Playhouse Kit and Art Easel to expand play! Price: $199.99 (accessories extra)

Moving

  1. TrampolinesThere are many options for trampolines and picking the right one for your child’s needs will start with research! Three basic options for trampolines may include:

Springfree Trampoline– Springfree offers excellent options for outdoor trampolines that can be used year around (yes, even in the snow!). The trampoline does not use steel for the frame or springs and the enclosure poles flex away from the net to ensure safety when trampolining. Great way to learn balance, explore body movements and improve mood at the same time.   Price: $1,200+

Little Tikes 3 Foot Trampoline An indoor trampoline like the Little Tikes 3 Foot Trampoline can be an excellent resource for burning some energy and creating focus and attention to tasks like homework or dinner for a child with lots of wiggles. The trampoline has a large jumping surface, handle bar for stability and padding for safety. It is perfectly sized for one jumper at a time and great for kids to get moving indoors. Price: $79.99    

Bubble BouncerThis trampoline is made for the youngest of bouncers honing in on gross motor and balance skills from the start! The Bubble Bouncer is small in size, low to the ground and provides just the right amount of bounce for little ones. The handle is sturdy to help with balance and coordination and is removable to slide the trampoline out of the way. Price: $49.99    

  1. Bikes– Bikes are a great way for kids to learn about balance. There are a vast variety of bikes on the market to choose from. Some have moved outside of the “traditional” box and removed the pedals to help kids transition from plastic ride ons to balancing on a bike with no pedals. Not including the pedals on the bike allows a child to focus on balance and coordination while always being able to plant feet firmly on the ground without getting distracted. This encourages the development of spatial awareness, balance and basic motor skills in young riders. Some options for modern, “pedaless” bikes are:

YBikesThese bikes are offered in three sizes to serve different ages and stages. The Pewi is for little ones and includes 4 wheels for maximum stability, the Balance Bike offers 2 wheels and no pedals and the Extreme Bike offers higher handle bars and a wider base to increase the level of difficulty promoting core strength and balance.  Cool design of these bikes gives them street creds, too.

Strider BikesStrider Bikes are well known in the competition arena offering older kids bikes to work on tricks and stunts on trails and ramps. The SS-1 “Super 16” bike is light with no pedals allowing older kids to focus on the task at hand while building confidence along with balance.

Glide BikesGlide Bikes offers the Super Glider with no pedals for people over 6 feet tall. This option is great for older and taller kids that have not mastered the art of riding a bike, but still want to be included in the family bike rides.  Never too late to learn balance skills that help maintain health and wellness.

The Importance of Balance

Balance is essentially communication between the mind and the muscles allowing the body to remain stable. This basic skill is developed through learning where the body is in space and then changing the center of gravity to match movements. Teaching kids balance not only protects them against falls and injuries, but allows them to improve their response to changing forces, surfaces and elements. It is never too early or too late to teach children to master balance in their own body because maintaining stability throughout the course of everyday activities is a key factor in maintaining health and wellness.

This article was written by Ahren Hoffman on behalf of the National Lekotek Center for the April 2013 Friendship Circle blog. 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 www.ableplay.org for a complete listing of toys and find us on Facebook!

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