Since 1994, Toys R Us has offered its customers an annual resource called the Toys R Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids. It provides family, friends and caregivers with advice and suggestions on what toys to select for the special-needs children in their lives. Recently unveiled, this year’s guide features nearly 100 playthings selected with the assistance of the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit organization that provides therapeutic play services to children in centers across the United States.
Look closely. The guide isn’t categorized by disability or age. Instead, symbols are assigned to toys to denote the various skills they’ll help children develop. For example, one toy may teach a child visual and fine motor skills, and another may build self-esteem and language skills. Each toy is designated with at least two symbols, and when you’re shopping, these icons make it easier to decide whether a toy is adaptable to a child’s individual style, ability and pace. The guide also offers the National Lekotek Center’s “Top Ten Tips for Buying Toys,” which provides suggestions on things to consider before purchasing a toy, such as “Will the toy provide a challenge without frustration?” and “Can play be open-ended with no definite right or wrong way?”
Here are 10 great picks from the guide:
Melissa & Doug Rainbow Blooms ($9.74)
Kids get to plant little blooms on pegs to make a row of flowers, and they can spin the gears to watch the flowers move, too.
Skills: Creativity, fine motor, tactile, thinking and visual
Priddy Books Simple First Words: Let’s Talk ($14.95)
Children enjoy Priddy books because the collection really understands what’s pleasing to young minds: lovely graphics, interesting topics told simply and clearly and plenty of fun. This 22-page board book is all about matching words to sounds and building up a child’s finger-pointing and recognition skills.
Skills: Auditory, language, social skills and thinking
LEGO Bricks & More Builders of Tomorrow Set ($34.99)
With 650 bricks in nine colors and a variety of sizes, this is an excellent set to kick-start any child’s LEGO collection. Kids can engage in endless building fun and satisfying sorting and matching activities.
Skills: Creativity, fine motor, thinking, tactile, visual and self-esteem
Lalaloopsy Silly Hair Doll ($34.99)
It’s hard to find a little girl who isn’t into Lalaloopsy dolls and their easy-to-style hair and cheerful looks. Because there are duplicates of the accessories, a caregiver can style one side of the doll’s head, and a child can copy it on the other side (or do it all herself if she prefers). The texture means clips and pins stay in so there’s less frustration all-around.
Skills: Fine motor, creativity, tactile, visual and language
Bop It! Reaction Game ($19.99)
This reminds me a bit of old-school Simon (remember that addictive game?). The Bop It! calls out commands, and you have to bop it, pull it, twist it or shout at it to stay in the game. Play solo or with others, and work on listening and following directions, all while having a blast.
Skills: Auditory, thinking, gross motor, fine motor and social skills
Barbie Voice Change Rockstar Boom Box ($29.99)
Who needs a professional studio when this small boom box can do so much for a budding Idol contestant? She can sing along with the built-in music or connect to an MP3 player to utilize her own playlist. She can even add echo or adjust her voice—kind of like her very own Auto-Tune. For support, Barbie herself will even cheer her on!
Skills: Auditory, language, self-esteem, social skills and creativity
Journey Girls Wheelchair and Crutch Accessory Set ($24.99) and Journey Girls 18-Inch Soft Bodied Doll- Dana ($32.99)
To explore the topic of disabilities during playtime, pick up this set for your child. She can place Dana or any 18-inch doll into the wheelchair, which rolls, folds and even has working brakes. Also included is a pair of crutches, a leg cast, arm cast, ice pack, bandage and sheet of mini stickers to personalize the pieces.
Skills: Social skills, visual, self-esteem, language and tactile
ThinkFun Roll & Play Game ($19.99)
From a company that is focused on providing all of its users with educational, collaborative fun, this game teaches taking turns, color identification and simple game play skills. Roll the soft, squishy cube. The color it lands on is the card you pull. Do the activity associated with it like “Roar like a Lion” or “Wave Your Arms.” This is a nice one for siblings because it’s about fun—not competition!
Skills: Thinking, visual, social skills, language and gross motor
AniMagic Fluffy Go Walking Puppy ($24.99)
Let her nurture and care for this puppy by walking it, playing with it and listening to its happy bark. The leash stays attached, making it easy for your child to keep the puppy by her side.
Skills: Gross motor, language, self-esteem and tactile
Play around with savings on our Toys R Us page.
Topmost photo courtesy of Toys R Us