Future Reflections                                                                                                      Fall 2001

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Toy Ideas for Blind Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers

by Terri Connolly
and Jill Brody

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Terri Connolly of the VIPS program in Louisville, and Jill Brody of the Blind Children’s Center in Los Angeles for responding to my request for toy ideas from those who work professionally with our very youngest blind and visually impaired children. The material they sent, which I edited to eliminate duplication and to ensure better flow and readability, is presented below. By the way, I urge all readers to send me toy and game ideas and resources so I can share them with our readers in future issues. Please don’t assume I already know about them. You can send suggestions or articles to me by mail or email:

(Mrs.) Barbara Cheadle, Editor
Future Reflections
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 212--0
 [email protected]


Terri Connolly, Early Interventionist, Visually Impaired Preschool Services, Louisville, KY:

Every child is unique, so I can’t say that any particular toy is the most wonderful for all children who have a visual impairment. More important than a specific toy are the qualities of a toy and how it is used.

Gaining balance in movement is especially important for our youngest ones as they prepare to explore their environment. Vision certainly can entice a child to move out into the world, but sounds can also be motivating. Toys can help.

Music boxes or wind‑up toys coming toward the child from a distance may help perk-up attention to an approaching object. In the same way, a toy that rolls away should have a sound so the child can remember where it went. There are several balls with electronic sounds that don’t roll very far. A ball with a sound that continues to play is very helpful for seek-and-find.

The following are also fun: textured balls, high back toddler swing (outdoors), electronic Hasbro® Sit‑n‑Spin with music and lights, large push and bump toys like cars, trucks, and walking push toys. Lots of climbing (under close supervision) and sliding is also great.

Many of the VTech toys available through Toys “R” Us and other specialty toy stores are wonderful for reinforcing visual awareness with music and lights activated by the simple push of a button. There are several with themes such as nursery rhymes, environmental sounds, and animal sounds. The nice thing is that you can choose to activate music or words depending on the interest of the child. Some of my favorites are: Little Smart Learning Center, Nursery Rhyme Land, and voice-activated Crib Kaleidoscope with short or long play.

Slumbertime Soother by Fisher-Price® is a crib toy that activates lights and sounds by remote control. This can be very helpful for a child whose movements are restricted or weak. With this toy you can reinforce looking for, or at, the toy by activating it yourself. All young children with some vision enjoy mirror play, but watch out for glare. Use in diffused lighting.

Some decorative items for a room are helpful for increasing visual awareness. For example, consider slowly spinning lamp-lights that reflect designs on the wall or ceiling in a dimly lit room.

Other toys I recommend are: Fisher-Price® Kick ’n Play piano, the Child Guidance® Lullaby Lambs, Tyco® Musical Starlights, Snake Light by Black and Decker®, Select-n-Go RC Car by Little Tykes, the Sparkling Symphony Gym, Toddler Piano, Fischer Price Sparkling Symphony Stacker, the Dancin’ Jitter Bug, and Baby TOMY® Happy Shapes.


Jill Brody, M.A. OTR,
Blind Children’s Center,
Los Angeles, CA:

Mohamad Hashash discovers the Dizzy Disk Jr. from Quantum Toys at the 2001 NFB Convention Family Hospitality night
Mohamad Hashash discovers the Dizzy Disk Jr. from Quantum Toys at the 2001 NFB Convention Family Hospitality night.

The right toy for any child should be interesting, exciting, and fun. A child will be encouraged by the right toy to explore its many properties – touch it, listen to the sounds it makes, use it to produce other sounds (by banging for example), watch what it does, play with it with another person – and learn many things from interacting with it. The wrong toy can be boring; if it does not match the child’s developmental level it will not provide enough positive feedback to hold the child’s interest. If it is too difficult for him or her to manipulate or to process in a meaningful manner, it can be frustrating as well.

When a child has a sensory loss, it can be challenging to find toys that are both appealing and functional. Many manufactured toys rely on visual properties, such as color, design, or lights to provide interest for children. These kinds of toys are often quite appealing to adults as well. However, for children with significant visual impairments, a toy with an appeal which is primarily visual, is not going to be motivating for extended play, although it may be manipulated briefly.

When choosing toys for children with visual impairments it can be helpful to ask the following questions:

—Does this toy have an appeal that is not primarily visual?

—Can it be manipulated by the child?

—Is it the right size for a preschooler to pick up and/or play with?

—Does it make any sound (especially important for young children)?

—Can the child make something happen by playing with the toy independently?

—Can the toy “grow” with the child and still be interesting in a year?

—Does the child have any functional vision, and if so, does a particular toy have lights or color contrasts that would be meaningful to him?

—Can the play value of the toy include more than one person (rolling or throwing a ball back and forth, taking turns activating a sound, or putting different parts together)?

—Does the toy have different textures for tactile appeal?

—Is the toy safe for the child?

—Is The Toy appropriate for the child’s developmental (not chronological) age?          

After determining the appropriate developmental level and value of a specific toy, one might assess the purpose of introducing this toy to a child:

—Can she learn something by playing with it?

—Does it target specific skills?

—Does it help develop stage‑appropriate play skills?

—Can it be adapted so that it can be used for more than just a short time?

It is also important to remember that toys should provide pleasure and be FUN!

There are many great toys (and some playthings which are not really toys) available to parents and professionals. A few which have been particularly motivating and valuable to use in a therapeutic setting are listed below. They have been categorized according to approximate introductory developmental age levels, although each child’s readiness must be individually determined. There are, of course, many more which are not listed. Several of the following toys and activities can be utilized through several developmental levels.

Birth to 6 months:

Lightweight rattles which make noise easily when activated by the child. Crib mobile with movement, light, and sound. Clutch balls and balls with bells inside (safely sealed). Plastic “slinky” toys. Baby “gyms” from which toys can be hung for exploration. Wrist and ankle “bracelets” for babies.

6 to 12 months:

Wind‑up musical toys. Soft blocks. Easily- activated cause‑and‑effect sound/light toys. Fisher-Price® Sparkling Symphony stacking stars. A variety of different-sized and -shaped blocks to grasp and bang together.

12 to 18 months:

Vibrating toys: soft ones such as Tickle Me ElmoTM and plastic vibrating animals. Plastic containers for in‑and‑out play with small toys. Blocks. Pop‑up toys. Toy pianos and xylophones. Push and pull toys.

18 months to 24 months;

Riding toys (not tricycles). Toy “shopping carts” or wagons to push or pull. Dolls and stuffed animals. Medium-sized cars that make noise when wheeled on the floor. Nobbie® and Koosh® balls, which are easy to grasp and throw. Books with textures, sounds, or Braille text. Talking books for young children. See-’n-Say toys with animal sounds or words.

2 to 3 years:

Dramatic play toys such as play dishes and silverware, pots and pans, brooms, telephones. Sponges, cups, and funnels for water and sand play. Beads and string. Beginning puzzles with easily defined shapes and knobs for grasping. Put‑together construction toys, such as Duplos, Lincoln Logs, and blocks. Rapper Snappers – bendable, stretchable tubes that link together and provide proprioceptive input as well as bilateral coordination practice. Riding toys, tricycles, “Big Wheels,” and other child-sized play-cars with pedals. Play dough (commercial and homemade). Tactile materials in large containers such as dry rice, cornmeal, dry oatmeal, Cheerios, etc. Peg boards and pegs. Shape sorters. Art materials such as paints, finger paint, crayons, chalk, markers, etc.

3 to 5 years:

Many of the above toys, in addition to the following: Music Blocks, which provide both auditory and visual stimulation as well as opportunities for tactile discrimination of basic shapes. Form board and interlocking puzzles. Domino games with raised dots. Tactile Lotto games, either purchased or homemade. Musical instruments. Tape recorders and CD players which children can operate. Interactive games such as “Candyland” and “Chutes & Ladders” adapted for children with visual impairments. Magnetic shapes and letters. Mini-trampolines.

When choosing toys for any child, remember that playing should first be fun. If a particular toy promotes learning new skills or making new associations, then that’s a terrific bonus!

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