Learning Tools for Skill-Building Fun

July 24, 2014 at 9:52 AM Leave a comment


More teachers and therapists than ever before will be coming into your store for toys, games and manipulatives to help teach children with special needs. Statistics show that one in 20 kids today has a disability, and one in 50 kids is on the autism spectrum. To help them learn, the employment of special education teachers is expected to increase by 17 percent by the year 2020. And don’t forget parents. A fifth of U.S. families with children have at least one child with special needs. In addition to skill-builders for home, parents will be looking for special gifts for the holidays. Both educators and families will turn to you and your staff for products that – in addition to being hardworking – are also kid-appealing. Every child learns better when the process is fun. So are you ready with your toy/game/gift recommendations for children with special needs? To help you, here are five categories of “skills to build,” along with play-and-learn characteristics to look for and suggested items that fit the bill.


The right tools for


Look for products that have these characteristics.

  • Clear cause and effect
  • Concrete versus abstract
  • Different levels of play
  • Picture cues
  • Repetition
  • Short game duration
  • Simple instructions

Speed Stacks is a stacking toy that calls on kids to develop cross-lateral movement that activates the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This activity provides a great brain workout that helps with memory and recall. With B. Toys Pop Arty, children snap together jewelry using 500 beads in different colors, shapes, sizes and textures. Kids learn about recurring patterns, elements of order, and sequencing and predicting.



The right tools for

(talking and listening)

Look for these characteristics.

  • Verbal talk-back response
  • Word amplification
  • Indirect interaction

Jumbo Bananagrams’

large rubber letter tiles are great for outdoor social settings promoting receptive and expressive language skills. No need for turn-taking or waiting patiently with this game! Everyone gets to play at once to race against the letters. The game goes at the pace of the players and their skill level. Everyone plays their own letters in front of them; no board is needed.




The right tools for

(seeing, touching, hearing, smelling)

Look for these characteristics.

  • Adjustability
  • Clear outline
  • High color contrast
  • Lights and sounds
  • Raised buttons
  • Scented
  • Textures

Wee Blossom Weplay Rainbow

River Stones stimulate

sensory development. Bare feet explore the different textures, shapes and patterns of brightly colored river stones. Children can feel how their bodies are maneuvering on the stones to provide valuable vestibular input.


Be Amazing! Toys Insta-Snow Powder isn’t cold like winter snow, but rather cool, fluffy and lightweight. To make it, just add water to the dry polymer and it will grow to 100-times its size. Children will see the magical show of the ever-puffing snow, and then delve into the drifts for tactile stimulation.


The right tools for PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
Look for these characteristics.
• Angled play surface
• Attachment straps
• Enlarged handles
• Large openings
• Suction cup bases
• Nonskid bottoms
• Hook & loop fasteners
( e.g. Velcro)
• Laminated surfaces

Super Duper Publications’ Yogarilla uses large 6- by 8-
inch laminated cards to demonstrate 50 individual yoga positions
kids can try out on their own. More advanced stages of
yoga with “Otis” (the character that demonstrates the body
positions) allow options for partner moves once the individual
poses are mastered.

B. Toys Spinaroos help develop fine motor skills. Kids build using pieces that easily and securely connect together thanks to the innovative bristle texture. If a structure inadvertently gets knocked down, it can be righted just the way the child had it – no rebuilding necessary.
Crayon ball by Crayon ball actually comes in different shapes: a sphere, a cube, a cone and a pyramid, to allow for the specific manual dexterity needs of each child. The shapes provide children with whole-hand grasp and the independence to color.


The right tools for
(feeling, sharing, interrelating)
Look for these characteristics.
• Supports calming or soothing
• Incorporates appropriate competition
• Encourages identification and/or expression of feelings
• Introduces a new situation a little at a time
• Allows for observation before joining
Plushy Feely Corp.’s Kimochis characters help children understand their feelings, and encourage them to identify and express feelings in a positive manner. Each SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT character has its own personality – children are sure to find one that fits them best! Each toy comes with a Feel Guide that includes play suggestions, and three pillows that introduce emotional concepts.
Costumes by Aeromax offer many choices for kids to pretend-play real-life jobs, imaginary roles and more. Kids love to explore the adult world and its emotions through make-believe. These costumes are easy to put on and take off.
Family Time Fun Gather ’Round Dinner Game helps families connect, share and relate while they’re dining together. By pressing a button, a player finds out if he’s required to make his next bite a vegetable, for instance, or if he has to tell everyone about his most embarrassing moment of the day.


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 AblePlay.org for a complete listing of toys for children with special needs and follow us on Facebook!

Source: Educational Dealer Magazine, September 2013


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Toys can build connections between kids with special needs and their peers. A Party to Help Parents Pick the Right Gift

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