In this blog, NAPA OT Courtney shares her favorite toys for kids with Down syndrome. Not only are these toys a ton of fun, they will also benefit your child in various developmental areas!
Children who have Down syndrome need the same play-based materials and toys that any other child needs. What makes a toy beneficial for a child with Down syndrome is often the same as what makes a toy helpful for any child. Toys that encourage social interaction as well as cause & effect are beneficial in the early stages and as a child ages, finding toys that foster language, gross motor, and fine motor development will be best. Also, many children with Down syndrome love music. Singing and dancing are excellent ways to work on language, social interaction and motor skills!
While picking out toys for any child, it is important to keep a few things in mind to ensure suitability for the child’s development and growth. Try to disregard the age range written on the toy. These are often not accurate and you may not be able to depend on the item’s suggested age suitability, as your child may be achieving milestones at a different rate than their age-equivalent peers.
Just remember that a toy is suitable if your child’s interest is stimulated and they are drawn in to engaging with the item.
Also keep in mind that your child’s low muscle tone can make reaching, grasping, and handling certain toys more challenging. Finding toys that target these areas of growth, but are not too difficult or frustrating to engage with, is key. The following are some of our favorite toys to use when playing with children who have Down syndrome.
Listed below are our favorite toys for kids with Down syndrome. If you are looking for toys for babies or toddlers with Down syndrome, the first two are must-haves. Happy playing!
Play mats are a great place to engage your child in tummy time activities for gross motor development as well as reaching and grasping objects. Play mats also have visually engaging items as well as some activities requiring fine motor skills such as grasp and release. You can also use play mats and items with the play mat to promote exploration, cause & effect, body awareness and object permanence by hiding items and playing peekaboo.
This is a great item for tummy time which is incredibly important for gross motor development, strengthening and eventual fine motor development. Visual attention and social engagement are also great for development and can be done looking at each other in the mirror! In early infancy, utilizing high contrast items such as pictures with black and white items is a great way to develop the visual sense.
This incredibly versatile toy can be used in so many ways and comes in many forms. From the PipSquigz in rattle form to the MiniSquigz there are endless ways to engage with these fun little suction cups through the lifespan. Using these little suction toys can help promote core strengthening, fine motor, gross motor and communication skills. You can use Squigz during activities targeting balance and coordination, such as sticking them to a vertical surface while standing on a wobbly surface (couch cushion or Bosu ball) or working on reaching, developmental transitions (sit-to-stand, etc.) or stepping up/down. They can also be a great bath time toy as they are silicone and easy to clean. These multi-sensory toys target the visual system with their vibrant colors, auditory system with the fun suction popping sounds they make when pulling apart, tactile systems with their fun textures and more! The possibilities with these little suckers are endless!
Rody is a big NAPA favorite! You can often find Rody wandering around our clinics. Using Rody can help promote improvements in balance, strength and coordination. You can use Rody in a number of ways and movement on Rody provides great sensory input to the proprioceptive and vestibular senses. They’ve also created an even bigger and more stable Rody with the RodyMax if your child needs a bit more support. Rody can also be turned into a rocking item with the rocking base or scooter item with the speedy base accessories.
These fun items can help increase hand strength, fine motor coordination and visual motor integration. They come in many different animals (and mythical creatures) and can be used with one hand or both depending on what you’d like your child to be working on. From a distance, you can also try to target catching skills, though this may prove to be very challenging!
There are many forms of theraputty on the market these days but all help to target hand strengthening and fine motor coordination. Placing small items inside the putty to find can be a fun and an engaging way to work on various grasp patterns and hand strengthening.
The game of perfect balance can be the “just right” challenge for an older child with difficulties following directions, decreased body awareness and impaired balance. This fun filled, active game can help enhance coordination, core strength, social interaction and self-esteem.
Puzzles of all kinds work on so many great skills! There is a bit of a developmental sequence to puzzles that begins with large peg puzzles with underlying pictures and ends with jigsaw puzzles with many small pieces. Each will work on visual perception, visual motor integration and fine motor skills. Depending on the puzzle, you will also be working on matching, visual discrimination, form constancy, visual memory, and problem solving which can all be linked to reading and writing as well as cognitive and language development. Working on any puzzle will promote bimanual skills, hand-eye-coordination and can also incorporate gross motor skills (i.e. putting a puzzle piece at the end of a tunnel to crawl through, before placing it into the puzzle).
Courtney Shea is a pediatric occupational therapist at the NAPA Center in Boston. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors with her family and their dog Kolana. She is often caught overpacking for weekend getaways and adventures. If staying local she enjoys long distance runs along the Charles River alongside her husband taking turns pushing their son in a jogging stroller!