Choosing Toys and Creating a Play Area for Your Blind or Low-Vision Child

Young girl playing in ball pit

If you think about it, you may realize that what sighted children are often most interested in is the appearance of a toy. We’ve all seen children smile at a big, cuddly stuffed animal or a funny-looking cartoon character they’ve seen on television. But for a child who is blind or low vision, looks aren’t necessarily the significant factor. For that reason, when you’re looking for toys that will be fun and stimulating for your child, focus on those that have multi-sensory appeal. Multi-sensory refers to using more than one sense, so a toy that makes noise, has different textures to feel, and is visually stimulating, would appeal to three of your baby’s five senses. Toys with bright, high-contrast colors might be appealing if your child has some vision, but also try to find noisy ones, have a surface with multiple textures, or provide nooks and crannies for curious little fingers to explore.

It’s also important to think about toys that will challenge your baby or toddler and help them learn. If they are learning to turn, pull, and push knobs, a toy with that feature will be fun to play with and, at the same time, reinforce manual dexterity. Also think about toys that simulate common household devices—a toy smartphone, for example, that rings when they push a button. And don’t throw away that old computer keyboard—it’s a good practical “toy” to help your toddler get comfortable with a tool they’ll be using frequently in a couple of years—in the form of a braillewriter as well as an actual computer keyboard. It may be helpful to remember that many children who are blind or low vision don’t like the texture of stuffed toys. Plastic toys aren’t necessarily appealing either because many of them are very similar in shape and don’t feel much different. What often distinguishes them is a colorful image printed on the surface.

Some of the features to look for in toys for your child are:

  • Unbreakable with no sharp edges
  • Moving parts that are fun to wiggle, press, or pull (be sure they’re firmly attached and too big for your baby to put in their mouth and possibly swallow)
  • Sound—for example, a wooden duck that quacks when it’s pulled or a soft plastic mouse that squeaks when it’s squeezed may be appealing
  • Surfaces that are multi-textured or in some other way pleasing and interesting to touch

Creating a Play Area for Blind or Low Vision Children

  • To help your child learn to play, feel safe, and understand their environment, set up an area that your child knows is their own special place. It could be in a bedroom, a corner of the kitchen, or a convenient space in any other room that can be gotten to easily and safely. It might be set off between two small, low bookcases; it could be a little multi-shelf unit against a wall with enough space around it for spreading out toys, or it can be just a couple of big boxes or baskets in which toys are stored.
  • Put your child’s smaller toys in a shallow container or a tray with a raised edge. That will keep them from sliding or rolling away.
  • Encourage your child to roll, crawl, scoot, or walk to get a toy for themself. That will help develop good motor skills. Also, if you always bring toys to them may not realize where the toys are or that they can choose the ones wanted.
  • Help your child store toys in an organized way. You might suggest putting all mechanical toys in one bin; blocks and similar toys in another; and soft, squishy toys in a third. Gluing an identifying toy of each kind on each bin can help your toddler know just where to find each type of toy.

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