Toy selection on its own can be an overwhelming decision and only gets more complicated when considering a child with special needs. Without proper consideration, the well-meaning heap of toys in your home go unused, improperly used, or don’t promote purposeful play. Purposeful play is essential to promote joyful intellectual and social development through exploring, problem-solving, and creating. The following tips offer some guidance when considering your next set of toy purchases
Realize what your child finds entertaining and stick with it.
Their interests are what matters and failing to adhere to preferences often leaves toys unused. If you are attempting to expand interests or give an item that is more developmentally appropriate, think of items that are subtly different. For example, if an older child is interested in Thomas the Tank Engine, think of other transportation toys that they may enjoy, such as a train set or remote control car.
Find items that are different.
Find items that offer different experiences and growth to add to your collection. Think of sensory experiences, manipulative play, as well as imaginative exploration.
Think of the “just right challenge.”
The item should be “just right” in terms of stimulation. Toys should be easy to use but slightly challenging to avoid frustration or over/under-stimulation. Keep in mind that toys may suit a child’s needs over time. To illustrate, an item like a shape sorter may be too complex for a 9-month-old but they may be able to use the shapes to stack into towers and practice putting items in and dumping them out.
Rotate what is out.
When your child gets a new item, put one away. Limiting access to ~10 items in the play area will promote longer engagement and more creative use. This will also naturally lead to keeping items around that can be used in more than one manner.
Relate toys to goals.
Think of the goals you have in mind and if the toy could be used to achieve them. Goal areas for children typically include physical activity, cognitive skills, emotional regulation, and socialization. Spending time playing is the easiest and most stress-free way to learn.
Use “the real thing.”
Appreciate that your child may find “the real thing” more desirable. As a result, purchasing duplicates or items that have a similar feel to household items is recommended. For example, a child may watch a parent clean and become interested, so a second feather duster may become an item they enjoy using for play.
Ask for a receipt.
Every item out should serve a purpose and be used. If it doesn’t return, store or gift it to someone else. With gifts, be specific if there is an item a child would like or there is an item you wish to try. If appropriate, ask for a receipt and reassure the giver that you will search for an item the child will enjoy.
Finally, all items should be safe and provided with time.
Showcasing an item will help a child carry through with intended use and allow the parent to see the level of supervision needed. Multiple demonstrations may be required before a child attempts on their own and/or shows any interest in the toy so don’t give up!