I speak from firsthand experience with my son. Raise and teach a blind or low vision child just like a 'normal' child with the right tools.
Learning Toys for Blind and Low-Vision Kids
Many people think that there are only specific, specialized learning tools and toys that can enhance a blind or low vision child child's learning experience. Nothing could be further from the truth!
The idea that learning toys for blind and low-vision kids must come from specialty stores or be adaptive toys is not true at all. In fact, most of the learning toys recommended by professionals who work with the blind recommend some of the most basic toys on the market today, things that are readily available in stores or online.
Much of the concern that parents have is that they need some kind of unique learning toys to teach their child how to adapt to their disability. I speak from firsthand experience that you can raise and teach a blind or low vision child just like you would any other child provided you know how to use certain tools and learning toys and you understand a bit about what the child needs to learn through play.
Since almost all of these learning toys and techniques will appeal to normally sighted, legally blind, low vision, or completely blind children, it's easy to use them in play and involve the entire family, enhancing the child's independence while instilling a solid sense of self in the process.
What Learning Toys Are Appropriate for Blind and Low-Vision Kids?
Just about anything and everything is appropriate for a learning toy to use with a blind or low-vision child. It is all about the application and the functionality geared to the individual child and their level of visual and physical function.
What Are the Best Toys and Games for Blind or Low-Vision Children?
Depending on the amount of vision the child has, here are the elements to consider in choosing toys and activities.
- Toys That Help Them Practice Mobility. Learning toys geared at balance, movement, walking, touching, riding, and bouncing are all great ways to build confidence in the visually impaired child and create a comfort zone for them later on.
- Toys That Help Them Explore Places, People, and Objects. From early on, these children need to know where they fit in the scope of things (my street is here, my city is here, my state is here). Find toys that help them prepare them for their eventual entry into the world on their own. The same goes for objects and people. The more experiences they have in the larger world, the more adept they will be to meet all of life's challenges head-on.
- Toys That Enable Communication. Whether it is by voice, sound, touch, sign language, or Braille, any child with a visual impairment or complete blindness needs to be able to learn solid and effective ways to communicate with the world around them.
- Toys That Promote Creativity and imagination. Many blind or low-vision kids don't need any help in this department, but the use of learning toys encourages them to express themselves. Most blind or partially sighted children have developed extra senses in other areas. For instance, their sense of sound, smell, and touch may be extraordinary. Encouraging them to use their creativity and imagination can lead to wonderful results. My son, for example, is a fantastic pianist. By offering him this venue for expression, creativity and imagination flourished and gave him a wonderful tool for expressing himself and delighting others.
- Sports and Exercise. A visually impaired or even totally blind child can participate in sports or exercise! My son quite vehemently insisted that he be allowed to play sports. I wasn't happy about it at first, but my husband and I quickly learned that it wasn't really our call to make. He wanted to experience it, and we allowed him to participate in whatever arenas he could, with a little help.
- Social Interaction. This is vital for a successful transition into adult life. Association with people with similar disabilities is also extremely important. Many state facilities for the blind offer programs in the summer or on school breaks for both visually impaired and completely blind children so that they can interact with people with the same disability and participate in activities specifically geared to their disability such as horseback riding, waterskiing, mountain climbing, or skiing. My son has done them all and os a better person for all of it.
Toys to Teach the Senses
Toys and Activities That Teach Hearing Sense
Some wonderful toys and things to stimulate and improve a blind or visually impaired child's sense of hearing include...
- Playing an instrument.
- Talking books (most are available online or free through state services and are sent to the home).
- Toys that talk or pattern real life noises can be used as a learning tool while still being a part of play.
- Learning "this object makes this noise" is an invaluable tool for the blind or low vision child.
Toys and Activities That Teach Touch Sense
Offering a child many different textures through play toys is a great way to introduce exploration. Most visually impaired or blind children already have a very sophisticated sense of touch but it doesn't hurt to help it along!
- Toys with dials and knobs encourage the child to develop dexterity with these devices even if they are completely blind.
- Toys that teach a child to touch and associate the stimulus with some specific thing—hot, cold, rough, smooth, wet, dry, etc—all have their place in creating a sensory touch pad in the child's brain and will serve forever as a guide.
- Finger painting and Play-Doh are both great ways to introduce textures and encourage touch as a medium to navigate through life.
Toys and Activities That Teach Creativity
Creativity comes in many forms and can be enhanced through reading, music, math, etc.—basically any activity that involves learning and/or expressing yourself.
- Crafts are an excellent learning toy for the blind or visually impaired child.
- Learning to read (with large print books, talking books, or Braille) opens the world to the visually impaired or blind child.
- Music is an excellent form of expression and musical instruments of any form can be introduced early.
- Singing or vocalizing is also a wonderful way for children to express themselves.
- Dance is another excellent activity, as it encourages creativity and also is great for movement and balance.
- Gymnastics is another great tool; something as simple as walking on a low balance beam teaches them fluidity of movement and also balance.
- Games that stimulate thinking and reasoning such as matching games, word games, and number games: these all enhance the child's ability to think and learn.
Toys and Activities That Teach Visual Sense
If a child is totally blind, obviously this sense will be absent. However, just because a child has low vision doesn't mean that their vision cannot be stimulated.
- Bright colors stimulate and improve visual perceptions. As early as infancy, brightly colored mobiles that move and turn should be introduced.
- Visually 'busy' books (such as Richard Scarry books) actually help a low-vision child focus.
- Manipulatable toys such as peg-in-hole, stacking blocks, and Legos, while at first may be frustrating, can be excellent training tools and teach the visually impaired child (and even the blind child in this instance) how to look/touch and fit things together. This teaches the child a survival skill necessary for life.
- Toys like Lite-Brite: Things that stimulate the child to look and focus on the lights, colors, or patterns.
Toys and Activities That Teach Motor Development
Due to a loss of sight or poor vision, many children shy away from participating in physical activities. This is one of the most important things you can do for these children: improve their physical awareness, balance, and coordination.
- Trikes, bicycles, big wheels, pogo sticks, bouncy balls, trampolines, etc. They all have their place (of course under the careful supervision until the child has mastered the skill). Physical participation is a wonderful gift to a blind or partially sighted child because even if they struggle with it and can't be as 'good' as someone else, it will inevitably make them more independent in the future.
- Walking, running, swimming, tumbling: these things may appear to be a challenge for these children but, in the long run, will serve them well. I watched completely blind athletes doing track at the Washington State School for the Blind and it was amazing!
- Action toys or any toys that stimulate motor movement from grasping and releasing to playing on monkey bars, as long as the child is taught to do these things and is supervised until they have mastered it, it is a huge bonus for the future.
- Any sports team activity that works for the child at whatever level of visual impairment they have. My son was able to ski, bowl, play soccer, water ski, and horseback ride, but it was all with appropriate instruction, guidance, and education on the part of kids and parents in team sports (such as 'man on at 10 o'clock' in soccer).
Toys That Teach Daily Living Skills and Socialization
The main goal is for the totally blind or low vision child to achieve independence in adulthood. If the child is brought up using learning toys and embracing situations where he or she can feel successful and learn the skills that are necessary to survive, total independence will be achieved.
- Games or scenarios that depict 'normal' routines—visually impaired and blind children need interaction just like other kids. They need preschools, they need play dates, they need to feel totally normal.
- Use puppets and dolls to reenact situations or encourage socialization skills and reinforce sharing behaviors.
- Acclimate your child with games or contests about where you are, how you get from here to there, what would you do if you got lost, etc.
- Games and activities to teach the child how to do simple daily chores, always stressing the blind or visually impaired child is part of a team. (I taught my son to do his own laundry early on and used the exercise to show him how knobs and gadgets worked.)
- Including a pet in the household can be a terrific benefit because it teaches the child a lot about interacting. It also brings joy and unconditional love into their life and helps eliminate fears.
Example: Treasure hunting on a beach can be a wonderful way to creatively use the senses of smell, touch, visual scanning, and even movement (jumping waves, etc).
Summing It Up
Having a child who is born blind or low vision can stretch one's mind as to how best to go forward as far as learning goes, but you will always find a silver lining in sharing your life with these special children. Whether you are a parent or a teacher, friend or relative, there are simple toys, games, and techniques that you can employ that will result in only positives for you and the child.
Employing learning toys as a teaching platform for a blind or low vision kid is much like teaching a child any skill. You just have to be able to perceive how best to enhance their learning experience and bring out their strengths and learn what senses you can tap.
Visually impaired and blind children are unique because they have so many components to make up for their sight. My son has always been my inspiration because he truly only wants to be like everyone else and experience everything. While it would have been easy to 'protect' him or think he had limitations, I am grateful that he had the bravery to enjoy life to its fullest and he did not let his lack of sight define him.
I give him all the credit in the world for being so marvelous, but I do think part of the success was that we all tried to incorporate his learning experiences and turned it into a family thing. We did not set him apart but rather we all participated. We found new ways of doing things.
Adaptation is better by far than isolation. Even today at almost 32, he refuses to wear the label of handicapped. That is a great success story!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Audrey Kirchner
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on December 18, 2012:
Hi Desperate--sounds like the little guy might need some type of therapy for something like autism. Most kids who have low vision enjoy music and sound though they can be very sensitive to it but not quite like that. I'd look into movement therapies or therapy for kids with autism? Wishing you both well.
Desperate on December 18, 2012:
I work with a fourth grader, he is very low functioning, blind, hears a little, wears pull ups, and stomps when he walks. When he hears other children talking in the halls he drops on the floor and cover his ears. Honestly the days are long for both of us because I don't do much with him. He enjoys music, I walk him and change his pull up.
daviddwarren22 on August 28, 2011:
Very useful hub!Glad to visit this page.
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on October 27, 2010:
Any types of toys that are tactile, or used by touch like any toys that have to do with shapes, building blocks, rubber balls, stuffed animals, balls. Also motion things for 1-2 year olds with assistance such as bikes, trikes, swings. Basically, you use normal toys but then you modify your technique for the blind. Whereas a sighted child might be able to see a ball rolling towards them and stop it, the blind child will need some encouragement as to when it is coming, etc. You just train them to do things a normal child would do but in their own way - and believe me, they'll figure out their own way and probably surprise you each and every time. Losing sight makes them super aware of their other senses and they have an amazing sonar built right in.
Hope that helps!
eisya on October 27, 2010:
what types of toy is suitable for blind child 1-2 ages
Lynn Gordon, Ph.d on August 28, 2010:
You might want to consider carrying my new phonics instruction book, "The Big Collection of Phonics Flipbooks" in your low vision online store. The hands-on flipbooks are VERY large print and are terrific for teaching beginning reading to children with low vision. The book also comes with 21 phonics assessments.
Here is a link to my book on Amazon:
You can contact the publisher, Scholastic, if you wish to order a copy or become a reseller. Call (800) 242-7737 or visit Scholastic.com
Lynn Gordon, Ph.D.
Department of Elementary Education
California State University, Northridge
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 27, 2010:
Thanks for commenting, Katie! Hoping so!
Katie McMurray from Ohio on May 27, 2010:
Very good resource, this learning toys for blind and low vision kids is a great place to learn great and helpful activities. Peace :)
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 26, 2010:
Thanks Shellie for stopping by - that was a great phrase - opened my eyes! They are just like the rest of us and I do think in retrospect, no matter how painful it was to watch Pat 'be normal' - it was really for the best!
theherbivorehippi from Holly, MI on May 26, 2010:
Wow...how interesting this all is. I've never thought much about this topic so true that they should have all the toys, opportunities and athletic abilities offered to them. What a great hub. You certainly opened my eyes on the topic!
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 26, 2010:
Thanks, Spanky - it's all a learning experience no matter what you are doing in life. Even better if you can apply it somewhere!
Hello, hello - thanks so much for reading and commenting. My son made it all very easy as he is just a wonderful person and he was a great kiddo!
Hello, hello, from London, UK on May 26, 2010:
Thank you for such a wonderful, informative and helpful hub. I admire you for doing such a great job and care so much.
Holle Abee from Georgia on May 25, 2010:
Buckwheat, this is an awesome and useful hub! Bet it educates a lot of readers!
Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on May 25, 2010:
Thanks for stopping by, Sandy!
Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on May 25, 2010:
Wonderful hub on toys for the blind kids.