Four years ago, I had a new baby, a 3-year-old and a 6-year old. My thoughts about toys included dolls, musical instruments, dress up clothes, and trucks… sprinkle in some balls, boats, crayons, markers, paper, paint and Play-Doh and that was a good recipe for what I considered meaningful.
And these items are excellent for children of all ages.
Fast forward to July 2017, where I stepped into the world of early intervention, physical and occupational therapy, gross and fine motor skills, cognitive, communicative and expressive, sensory and vestibular therapy.
I am a newbie special needs mama…. excited, nervous, figuring it all out…. letting go…
My son, Niko, was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI), a genetic disorder that is characterized by fragile bones and physical delays.
A great question that is asked in our OI parent community is what toys to buy our kiddos, and I wanted to share what has worked for us.
Why toys are important
When my three older children were babies, I was on the less-is-more side of toys, often encouraging them to play with things around the house and use their imaginations, instead of focusing on store-bought toys, which they had a lot of.
I’d encourage them to play with cans in the kitchen cupboard, or books, or kitchen utensils…. puzzles, games, dress-up clothes and sight words/sign language flash cards….
The value of baby toys blew past me.
Toys can be monumental for raising a child with special needs
I’m thrilled and fortunate to learn from excellent therapists who have taught me an appreciation for our growth and development.
Our children benefit from a customized plan that meet their current and expected needs. Early intervention is a program that offers this support.
All of these toys are excellent for babies of all abilities. What I love about playing with toys is I know I’m helping Niko grow strong, able and independent.
Here are 16 items that have helped him in his first 16 months.
1.) A WubbaNub
Before Niko left the Nicu, a wonderful nurse left him a WubbaNub she bought at the gift shop. It’s a great invention because he can cuddle it, too!
So it’s not technically a toy exactly, but it was one of his first, great items.
Because Niko has low muscle tone, including his mouth muscles, it acts as an exercise program to strengthen his tongue and jaw. It also acts as a soother, but we found it most helpful to use as an occupational therapy tool.
Most of us have a baby bridge, a toy that comes with an arch and toys attached to it. We added links so Niko could reach at least one and receive feedback from touching it. We also put ones out of his reach.
Since he was born with a broken arm, his wrist action needed work in his left hand (which is now his strong arm believe it or not!)
Giving him rings to hold onto helped him hold them single-handedly, and also with both hands in the center of his chest.
Another great use for links, is to attach to a balloon! Great work out!!
3.) Oball Toy Ball
This toy was given to us by our friend and PT, Beth and Niko LOVED it for months… it was my go-to if I wanted to keep him busy!
5.) Anything with lights and music!
6.) Or anything with a mirror!
These are really fun, great for banging together, fine motor skills and up close observation.
8.) Musical Instruments
A tamborine, maracas, drums, all of these offer feedback and encourage further movement.
9.) Books, Bears and Angel Cards
With Niko I have noticed that since his movement is atypical, he takes extended amounts of time to pay attention to things up close. He will looks through a book, carefully turning the pages and looking at different parts of the page. He will take interest in the tiny bundle of material that makes up the baby teddy bear’s hair. He likes the edges of cards, enjoys shuffling them and transferring them from him feet to both of his hands and back again. More than angel cards, letter and sign language flash cards work really well in teaching, learning and communication!
10.) Shape Sorter
The easiest one is the circle!
Our PT suggested either getting a shoe box and cutting out a circle in the center, which is the easiest for them….. or as a second option, covering up the other shape holes with duct tape and leave open the circle.
Either way, start with the circle!
This is nice because it offers both tummy time cushion and then stacks up to provide a cushion for unsupported sitting. I wouldn’t use this for a baby who has OI unless they were strongly sitting on their own, rather use it as a soft cushion to protect them if they fall back.
I also like it because it offers support for side leaning. An example of this is if the child is sitting and leans with one arm to reach for something with the other. This offer that multi-level cushion support to strengthen this skill.
12.) Fisher-Price Brilliant Basics Musical Activity Walker
So the toy Niko is playing with, is a Fisher-Price Little Superstar Sing-Along Stage, and we got it 11 years ago from Niko’s Grammie. It must be vintage because it’s now for sale on Amazon for $350!
The benefit of it, for Niko, is it offered him something to forward lean on, engage with, and motivate him to build core strength to sit unassisted.
This toy was his transition into sitting unassisted.
A stacker that plays music is fun! Niko quickly found the button at the top, which is great to strengthen the pointer finger!
I would highly recommend this great bath time toy for a few reasons:
1.) You don’t have to be in the bath to enjoy it!
2.) It lights up and plays music, is waterproof and is actually able to be played with in the water!
3.) You’ll get to see my mug on the box’s marketing!
This is a great toy!
I don’t have a picture of Niko playing with it but I align it so he can drop the ball in the side and collect it when it comes out.
He can use it laying down or sitting up. Eventually he will have enough arm strength to knock it down with the hammer.
16.) Large Wooden Blocks
A toy similar to the one in the right of the photo above, is shown below. The legs can be taken off and it can be used to play during tummy time or while sitting. I have used it while Niko self propels in the Zip Zac, shown above.
I have also started using it as a table he can sit at, sitting on a small bench, gently bearing weight with his feet on a book.
It can be used to encourage pulling to stand, as well as standing.
We made our own out of plywood and wheels, but here is a tool to stimulate inner ears and encourage balance. We alternate between rolling side to side, up and down and around. When As Niko gets older he can pull himself holding onto a rope, and then push independently with his feet or arms.
I hope these ideas serve you and if you have any questions, please let me know!