by Kimberly Pangaro | Kimberly is a mom of four daughters and the owner of the lifestyle parenting media company Atomic Mommy. When she’s not running her company or momming all day, she’s writing about family life.
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Five years ago, my daughter was born with a physically limiting injury called Brachial Plexus and yes, she did have surgery to help her arm regain some function. But since then, I’ve had to shop for all sorts of sensory toys to help her regain, tune-up, and grow her fine motor skills, sensory skills, and a great deal more!
While I won’t go into her story just yet, I wanted to give back knowledge and information to help other parents learn what toys are best for a child with physically limiting injuries, such as my daughter’s. This is part one of several series articles to come on this topic in an effort to shed light for others willing to learn.
The toys listed in this article are just a few I personally recommend as they have helped my daughter go through the different stages of her injury.
From birth to five years old and counting…
Here are my top 7 favorite sensory toys that helped her function a little bit more each year.
This toy made the list because it helps my daughter focus her little fingers on both hands to the task at hand — creating and building a 3D structure, whether it’s a house or a tower or a Mosasaurus. These magnets are strong enough to connect to each other without a great deal of force but has enough pull for children to practice their motor skills of push, pull, slide, and redirect.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This toy can’t possibly be for a one year old. It CAN, it really can! The first time I bought this game for her, she was one years old. She had no knowledge of what blocks were for or what to do with them… she didn’t even know how to stand on her own yet. So, why did I choose this toy? That’s easy. Not only did she get to experience shapes in a fun way, she got to play with her parents, too. It was interactive. All we did in the beginning, was put one block on top of another. She enjoyed that but really giggled when I’d topple it over. Sensory toys don’t only have to be about touch — sensory toys can be about letting a child be stimulated visually.
#3 Foam Roller
I know… not what you were expecting me to mention. This is actually not a toy. But its round and is great for a baby or toddler to play with. It’s a practical toy that can be used in multi-faceted ways. When my daughter was just learning to sit up on her own, she’d use this to push and pull, back and forth. This was a great exercise for her abdomen to build core strength. When she was two, her and I often used this as a fun way to play wheel barrel. I’d have her put her two hands, palms faced down on the ground, and I’d lift her legs up having the foam roller under her tummy to help support her weight and we’d walk forward. It helped her build upper body strength and taught her to push herself up off the floor. The skills weren’t there in the beginning, but over the years with this activity, she really blossomed.
Yes, every girl loves Barbies, but not every girl loves them for the same reasons. My daughter suffered with social anxiety and self esteem issues as she continued to grow. From the time she was one years old and even at times now, she uses her dolls to help her cope with her physical differences. I’ll never forget the year we moved into our house. She had just turned 3 and I found her playing separately from her sisters. An activity she had never done before that. She was playing and talking and singing with her Barbies, which naturally lifted my spirits for her. But what I heard her say rocked my reality. She said and I quote, “I’m not like the other girls.” followed by, “It’s okay. Your family loves you.” I was both heart broken for her and proud of her. She knew her limitations so early on. So, Barbies helped her to mentally cope with her struggles and her emotions.
Play-Doh is a really fun and imaginative way for children to engage many of their senses. It has a unique smell, the colors pop, it can be molded into so many different shapes, and the sensation of it is super curious to kids of all ages. While, I don’t recommend this for infants, I do recommend this toy with supervision for any child age 1 and up and that’s because kids like to put things in their mouths. Play-Doh is no exception! But once you are ready to supervise them, the kids will really enjoy this imagination inducing toy. And it’s a great way for mom and dad to get involved in play based education with your kids.
Wrist Rattles are perfect for the little ones who are just learning to engage with their surroundings. Whether they’re just laying on their back or they’ve figured out how to crawl or they can only sit in a walker… wrist rattles are a great sensory toy because they make sounds at the pace that your child waves their hands around. The faster they wave their hands, the faster the sounds get. These little rattles help your child gauge sound, pace, beat, and also help them engage their brain.
This a fun sensory toy for children at any age where they have use and control of their fingers. It engages the sound sense and the touch sense plus gets the brain firing signals to the fingers to keep the popping going. Not to mention, kids get a kick out of it because they think it’s a game.
#8 POP the Pig!
One of the best games that my daughter loved as a young toddler was this one! The first time she ever played it was when she was two. The idea was that you needed to put the burgers into the pig’s mouth, then pump the pig’s chef hat until the pig’s belly popped. There is a die to roll to choose the color of the burger to put in the mouth and on the back of the burgers are numbers. The numbers tell you how many pumps to pump the chef hat. The beauty about this game is that you don’t need to play according to the directions since at two years old, most kids can’t follow them anyway. AND… it is a great game to play for physical and occupational therapy.
#9 A Bucket of Beans or Rice
Technically, this is not a game. This is really just a sensory inducing method. My daughter took a long while to sit-up, crawl, and walk. Because of that, I had to put her in a jumper, BUMBO seat, and walker more often than not so I would get her used to being carried and to strengthen her legs and core. So, to engage her nerves on her feet, I would add a bucket of rice or beans under her feet so she could stand it. I would watch her facial expressions as she actively interacted with what her feet were touching. This is an inexpensive way to get your child to engage their senses because you can use any Tupperware in your house and literally any bag of rice or beans.
Sensory toys are not only for children who have injuries. They can also be for children whose parents just want to engage their senses in new and creative ways. Sensory toys can be used to engage all the senses and do not have to be used only as described. As a mother of a child who has physical limitations, I cannot begin to express how many new and exciting ways I have invented for the toys I already own so that my daughter can be engaged in new and completely different ways. So this year, find a few sensory toys that will get your kids’ senses sparking!