I’m Georgina, I’m a mum of two, qualified teacher/ SENCO and have set up my own tutoring service for children with special educational needs.
I run The SEN Resources Blog, a site to support parents and teachers. The SEN Resources Blog provides advice and suggests fun, skill-based activities that can be tried at home. It also recommends children’s resources, toys and books.
How Toys Can Help Children With Special Educational Needs
Play is so important for all children and not just because it’s enjoyable, but it’s how children of all abilities and ages first learn. You may be surprised to know that simple games that generations of children have played are rooted in key developmental learning. For example, hide and seek and peekaboo both teach children an array of skills such as counting and object permanence (the idea that something can exist even if you can’t perceive it anymore). Throwing and catching develops hand eye coordination and gross motor skills. Hopscotch teaches early writing skills, number recognition and gross motor skills. The list goes on!
Whether it be playing independently, alongside other children or with a caregiver- it is essential that children are given the opportunities and time to play. For children with special educational needs and/ disabilities – free play may sometimes present a challenge with factors such as accessibility, visual/auditory impairments, social difficulties etc needing to be navigated. However, parents are often experts at trying to find ways to create opportunities for play and provide adaptations that are needed to allow it to take place.
What’s brilliant is most toys are also designed with learning in mind. In my experience for children with special educational needs, chosen well, a toy can help provide fun and engaging ways of mastering skills that they may be finding difficult and frustrating. Here are a few examples of skills that I believe toys can play a part in helping to develop.
Fine Motor Skills
If a child is finding it challenging to grip a pencil or do up buttons on their clothes – it might be an idea to provide them with options of fun fine motor skill activities. These should help build strength and develop the tiny muscles in their hands and fingers needed for these tasks.
For example, one fun activity is using squeeze tweezers to pick up colourful pom poms and put them in a bowl. Children can also be stretched to sort the pom poms by colour, or try picking up trickier, smaller objects.
Some children love nothing better than to throw themselves into Imaginative Play, whether it be pretending to be shop keepers, police officers or vets.
Imaginative Play can help children practise their speech and language skills as well as make sense of the world we live in. But for others Imaginative Play presents a challenge. It may be that a child is not yet at that level of play and still plays with toys in a more functional way (e.g pushing a car to watch it move). In my experience, patience is key – give the child time, provide them with Imaginative Play opportunities but without pressures, play is meant to be enjoyable, so allow them the freedom to play how they choose to.
Speech and language
In my opinion, some games can be brilliant at helping to get kids talking and expand their vocabulary. Played as a family, games such as Petting Farm can help to reinforce key descriptive language. In this game children spin the spinner and try to find the animal that matches the texture, taking it in turns to describe what they feel like from touch alone.
Learning to Read (Phonics)
The way primary schools now teach children to read, is different than how a lot of us learnt to read ourselves. I’m a big fan of Phonics as a method of teaching how to read. It’s logical, focuses on the sounds of the different parts of a word and helps build children up to learning how to sound out and read words. However, like I said, many parents are unlikely to have come across Phonics until their child is learning to read. This poses a challenge when parents want to help support their child learning to read at home, but don’t want to confuse their child with a different method.
As a parent of a child learning to read, in addition to reading LOTS of books together, I can genuinely recommend Hot Dots not only does it support the Phonics programmes they learn at school but it’s fun! My little boy asks me to get it out to ‘play with’.
Sensory play is beneficial and enjoyable for many children with and without special educational needs. Sensory play is play that uses children’s senses, whether it be touch, smell, sight, sound or taste. It can be extremely therapeutic for children with sensory processing disorders and or ASD. It can also be enjoyable and beneficial for children who have a visual/auditory impairments.
A good resource for touch (tactile) sensory play is Playfoam. Like other Sensory play activities it also has the potential to help develop other skills such as fine motor skills and creativity.