Ah, it’s that time of year again where I scour the stores to find something new, something BJ can do and will love for Christmas. It’s hard but the reward of finding something he loves is so great I’m happy to go through it and while I look for BJ I take photos of things I think that might appeal to other children who have special needs.
I have done lists before and I encourage you to check them out for other ideas (2014 Gift guide, 2013 Gift Guide Part 1, 2013 Gift Guide Part 2) but here is the 2015 list. Please let me know of other things you find in your travels or anything that has worked for your child – it may just help others.
GETTING HANDS WORKING WHILE HAVING FUN
People who have been following our stories for a while will know that I am a big advocate for working on hand function skills no matter the age of a person. BJ has continued to improve and I am always looking for things that will help him gain greater independence.
While visiting Toys and Tales toy store recently I came across some cloth books which come in a range of themes. Each book has a variety of activities including velcro pieces to match and place in the correct position. The books are larger than the usual cloth books but are a good size for a child to use on their lap or on a wheelchair tray.
BRIO MAGNETIC TRAIN – Over the years we have found that magnetic toys have been great for BJ. They provide resistance making it a little harder for him to accidentally knock something out of place when building it. I recently saw the Brio Magnetic Train in Myer and thought it would make a great gift. Our overseas friends can buy the train here.
PLAY FOOD – Role play is so much fun for children but for a child who has limited communication this can be difficult as it often revolves around lots of talking. We had a food set when the kids were younger and I liked the fine motor activity of cutting the food. It also opened up conversation around lots of concepts ie. cut, half, whole, pieces and BJ could manage to ‘cut’ the food as it was only held together with velcro. I found the pictured set at Toys and Tales but for our overseas friends you can buy it here.
BUILD-A-MINION – I can’t imagine a world without velcro for so many reasons. I found this Build-A-Minion which has velcro pieces to build in a similar way to a Mr Potato head but without the holes to negotiate. Minion’s are so popular and another great way to get hands working towards goals. I found these in Big W but our overseas friends can buy it here.
STAR WARS MR POTATO HEAD – Mr Potato Head has joined the Star Wars take over this holiday season. Any version of Mr Potato Head is great for getting fingers working hard. BJ found it hard to put the body pieces into the head but he was very good at placing them close-by and great at taking them out. I found the Star Wars Mr Potato Head at Myer. Our overseas friends can find them online here.
RUSSIAN DOLLS – These require a twisting action to get them undone which can be tough. BJ had a Santa version of these one year and he loved it. He could match them and put them together but couldn’t pull them apart. The pictured Russian Dolls are available at Toys and Tales but our overseas friends can find some online here.
SOUND AND MOTION PUZZLE BOX – BJ had this sound and motion puzzle when he was little and he responded very well to the reward of the sound when he got it right. For a child with low vision this would be a nice benefit of the sound. I found this puzzle at Toys and Tales but our overseas friends can find the same puzzle online here.
THUNDER MAKER – Tipping and shaking were skills BJ took a long time to learn. I remember being thrilled when he learnt to pour water from a cup in the bath. He was pretty thrilled too. He would still like this Thunder Maker because of the terrific sound it makes when you shake it. I found this at Toys and Tales. I couldn’t find the same toy online for our overseas friends but I did find the same concept in a different style toy here.
RAINBOW MUSIC BELLS – Ringing a bell may seem a simple task to us but it takes skill, maintaining grasp and provides a great reward with different sounds. Once again this could be used to discuss colours, the different tones of the bells and would make a great gift for a child who likes music. You can tell I spend a lot of time researching toys in Toys and Tales because this is where I found this set. Our friends overseas can find similar bells here.
LONDON BUS – Wooden toys and toys which are a bit larger have proved good for BJ. The wooden toys are heavier so they don’t tip as easily. This London bus has a roof which is removable and allows access to place the people in the bus. I found this at Toys and Tales and I found a very similar cute one here online for our overseas friends.
TOYS TO INSPIRE CONVERSATION
BATH STORIES – Bath time was never a quick event when BJ was younger. I would use that time for him to play, to introduce concepts and have fun. These bath time foam pieces which are themed stick on the side of the bath or shower which is good for hand co-ordination and opens up the opportunity for imaginative play and conversation. Even if a child is non-verbal something like this toy provides lots of conversation for a parent or carer. I found this at Toys and Tales.
MAGNETS – I love the quality of Melissa and Doug toys. These magnetic sets come in a variety of themes and would be perfect to use on a magnetic board on a table-top or wheelchair tray. Once again it opens up the opportunity for imaginative play and conversation. I found these at Toys and Tales and our overseas friends can find them online here.
TOY STORY PULL STRING TALKING TOYS – In the height of BJ’s passion for Toy Story he received a pull string Woody character. It has a ring pull string and it makes it easy to use. A talking toy provides a great reward for the effort. I’ve seen these in Target this year. Our overseas friends can look at them here.
Children’s needs and preferences vary. Not every child wants to be playing with a toy so something that provides visual stimulation can make a great gift.
GLOW SOLAR SYSTEM – Great to decorate your child’s room and also to learn about the solar system. Space themed toys seem timeless. I found this at Kmart but our overseas friends have a range available online here.
ROCKET SHIP PROJECTOR – This rocket tells time and projects light projections into the room. We haven’t had this one but it looked good as a stocking filler. I found this at Kmart and our overseas friends can find something similar here.
JENSEN LED LIGHT SHOW SPEAKERS – Thanks to Angela for sending me this as a suggestion. Combining a child or teens music with a light show sounds like a winner of an idea. Angela found this in Target and you can read more about them here.
LIGHT BOX – AJ received this last year as a gift. It has been lots of fun making up messages for visitors and for special events. This would be great for a child learning to read. Easy to read messages could be made for the child to readThis one is from Typo but it is close to $80. There is a less expensive version at Kmart for $19. I’ve found it online for our overseas friends here.
SOUND AND MOVEMENT SANTA – BJ had a passion for these which means the rest of us are a little weary but they are jolly good fun for a while. They come in a range of characters. BJ particularly liked a motorbike riding Santa he received as a gift one year. These can be found in the Christmas section of most stores, even supermarkets.
SMURF GARDEN GNOMES – We have an elevated vegetable patch which is wheelchair accessible but there is no reason you couldn’t make a wheelchair accessible fairy or Smurf garden. You could either have it completed as a gift or give all the elements to a child for them to make with you. I found these cheeky Smurfs at Bunnings Hardware. Garden centres also have lots of smaller fairies and gnomes to make a fantasy garden.
BJ has always enjoyed ball games. We’ve tried just about every variety and they are usually a hit. Over time he has become accurate with a soccer ball and loves playing with his cousins or anyone else willing to give it a go. Ball games encourage social interaction and span the ages.
GRIP BALL GAME – BJ finds it hard to catch but with this game the catcher is attached to his hand with velcro and he can sometimes manage to catch the ball. He can then have the great pleasure of taking the ball off the velcro and throw it. I found this game in Kmart for $5 so it would make a great stocking filler. For our overseas friends you can find it online here.
NIGHT BALL – This is easy to grip with holes throughout the ball and it lights up. I found this at Toys and Tales and Australian Geographic stores. I found it online for those overseas here.
OVER SIZED BALL – Trying to play ball games when you are a wheelchair user can be tricky. This light weight over-sized ball is good indoors and outdoors. I bought BJ’s at Toys and Tales but I have found something similar for our overseas friends here.
A RANDOM MIX
MAGNETIC BEAD TRACE – Using a magnetic wand which is attached to a board a child can try and move the coloured beads to the different places in the board. One colour to each animal. This does require good fine motor skills or emerging fine motor skills. Good for visual tracking too. I found this at Toys and Tales.
THEMED APRONS – I loved the look of these aprons for children. If you have a budding chef or someone who likes to help you in the kitchen these aprons come with a pattern. There is a mermaid, a space and Christmas themed apron. Really cute. Toys and Tales is where I found these.
HATCHING EGGS – We have had lots of different versions of these hatching eggs. You immerse them in water and after a period of time a figure appears. There are dinosaurs, chickens, Santa, a crocodile and more. These make good stocking fillers. I found these at Toys and Tales but they can be found at many stores. A variety can be found online here for our overseas friends.
SOME OF BJ’S BIRTHDAY FAVOURITES
BJ loved his birthday presents this year and had some stand-out favourites.
TABLE-TOP FOOSBALL – This is tricky for BJ with a twisting action and the accuracy needed for hitting the ball but it doesn’t stop him from having a red-hot go and a giggle along the way. It is good for interaction and is the perfect size for a table-top. I can see us taking this to a family get-together and BJ enjoying getting his cousins involved. I bought this at Australian Geographic. Our overseas friends can buy similar sets here.
TALKING MINION – This Minion now sits in BJ’s room and he just loves it. The button on it is big enough for him to press which gets the Minion talking. Something about Minions makes me smile and it has certainly been a hit with BJ. I’ve found these cheapest in Kmart (around $49) unless other stores are running a special. The price varies greatly between stores so shop around. There is a singing Minion, a tumbling Minion, Bob, Kevin eating a banana etc. Our overseas friends can find a variety of Minions here.
GRAPHIC T-SHIRTS OR TEAM JERSEYS – BJ loves choosing his clothes each day and is always drawn to the graphic t-shirts. Take your child or teen to the store and see what they are drawn to. If they are non-verbal this may help give their wardrobe a piece of their personality. BJ has Batman, Superman, Simpsons and more. This love of t-shirts makes bringing back a gift from a trip much easier as he is always thrilled with a shirt. Graphic t-shirts can be found in Kmart, Target, departments stores and Jay-Jays have a good range. BJ also likes his PJ’s to have some kind of print. We stocked up at Universal Studios with some Minions but he also has some Mickey and Homer PJ pants he loves. Old Navy in the US usually has a good range of Graphic Tees.
GAMES TO PLAY WITH FRIENDS
Finding games that encourage inclusion can be tricky. Especially as kids get older the games piece get smaller and often inaccessible to a child or teen with restricted hand function. Over-sized games can assist with this and we’ve found a few in our travels.
LARGE CONNECT 4 GAME – At BJ’s respite house they have this awesome large wheelchair accessible Connect 4 Game. BJ and AJ had a great time playing it. The pieces are large enough that BJ can manage them and the game is fantastic for his concentration and his fine motor control. There are a variety of online companies selling similar versions at varying prices but it does come with a large price tag. Amazon have many versions for our overseas friends which you can look at here.
TABLE-TOP TIC TAC TOE – We have this set and it is easy for BJ to pick up the pieces and play and a good way to encourage interaction with others. I found it in Kmart the other day for the bargain price of $9.
TIC TAC TOSS – This Tic Tac Toe game has an added degree of difficulty. You need to toss or drop small bean bags on to the different squares to turn the game pieces over. BJ can play this from his wheelchair and enjoys it. This is available at Kmart or for our overseas friends online here.
BUBBLE ROCKET – BJ has always had good strength in his feet so any pump rocket is great for him. He can manage to stomp on it and it gives him great satisfaction. We took this Bubble Rocket to a friend’s house and it had all the kids taking turns and playing together. It is great for kids to see BJ enjoying the same things they enjoy. This was recently in Kmart for $10 and is available online for our overseas friends here.
LARGE FOAM TEN PIN BOWLING SET – I have shared this before but it is one of our most popular and used games. We pack this up and take it to friend’s and relative’s houses and find it extremely popular. It is a great way to get interaction and play happening. We love it. You can buy it at Australian Geographic Stores in store or online. Pottery Barn used to stock a similar game but I see it is out of stock online. Maybe check in store. There is a large inflatable bowling set on Amazon which may be of interest. You can find it here.
TRAFFIC LIGHTS – I think these traffic lights would make learning to wheel a manual wheelchair, drive a power wheelchair or just playing with friends who are on bikes or scooters much more fun. BJ would have loved this concept when he was learning to drive his power chair. I found these at Toys and Tales.
DOLL HOUSE – My Dad made this for AJ but it was important to me that she have a doll house which BJ could access as well. Many of the commercial doll’s houses have small rooms and are difficult for a child with hand function difficulties to access. My Dad also built it of sturdy timber that could withstand a bit of tough love. It has been popular with our visitors over the years. Maybe a clever Dad, Grandad or Mum could make one for their child?
Being outdoors as a family is wonderful but it is often difficult to find ways to include a child with special needs. Throughout this year I have found some equipment to assist in making outdoor play accessible and fun.
SWING – Nest swings are becoming popular in many playgrounds and I was excited to find this at a local hardware store. Bunnings had this swing for just under $100. I have found similar swings online here for our overseas friends.
ADAPTIVE SWING AND WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE CUBBY HOUSE – There is a range of special needs play equipment for outdoor play equipment suitable for infants, children and even teens with a disability. The equipment is more supportive and will take a heavier weight range. It isn’t cheap but I see these items as perfect for family to combine together to give as a gift or possibly as a Starlight wish item.
The “All Wheels” wheelchair cubby house appealed to me because it has level entry, wide doorway and is spacious inside. Our kids loved our cubby house but it certainly wasn’t wheelchair accessible.
After reading all the ideas we received for our Equipment Solution blog I know that our readers are resourceful and clever. I spied these play equipment parts in the local Bunnings Hardware store and thought that they would be fantastic around a backyard set at wheelchair or walking frame height. They could be incorporated in existing play equipment or made to be part of an accessible outdoor play area. The binoculars are a fantastic size. BJ always found it difficult to look in the small view finders on standard binoculars. I thought I’d plant the seed and I’d love to see any creative uses you find for these items. Maybe a roll in pirate ship with pirate wheel, a wooden car which is accessible?
MOULDED CAR – When BJ was little he would have loved sitting in his corner chair in this moulded plastic car. It isn’t very big inside so it wouldn’t fit too many in it but it might make some therapy more fun if it was done while ‘sitting in a car. ‘ You could add some coloured sand to make it more fun or with a bath seat (and supervision) it could be a paddle pool perhaps. I found these at Bunnings.
AN EXTRA SPECIAL GIFT – BJ was lucky enough to receive the gift of a Sandcruiser Beach Wheelchair in October. It has changed going to the beach for us. We can choose when we go and where we go. BJ is also much more comfortable having his own chair.
The Sandpiper (yellow chair) is a smaller version of BJ’s chair. You can read my blog on the beach wheelchairs here.
- Bocce is one of the games that we have used the most on picnics and outings with friends. Kmart, Australian Geographic and many other stores stock sets.
- Tickets to a concert or stage show.
- A framed photo, canvas print or video message. Family and friends all sent BJ messages for his birthday which AJ joined into one movie for him and he loved it.
- An experience, boat ride, trike ride or visit to an attraction.
- Books (book list to come soon – including our favourites)
- Lava lamp.
- New cap for a team or character they like.
- Graphic t-shirts are always a hit with BJ
- Bubbles. Even as an adult I love bubbles. Bubble machines are fun for parties and good for a child who cannot use a wand to create them.
- DVDs. Think about some you liked when you were younger. AJ and I had a wonderful time watching Anne of Green Gables, BJ loves the Honey I Shrunk the Kids trilogy, the Home Alone series.
- A camping chair. BJ loves sitting in a camping chair like everyone else when we go on a picnic.
- A money box. It is really good for BJ to put his coins in a money box.
- A good wallet. Even if your teen isn’t managing their own money they may like a nice wallet to take to a day program or respite.
- A caricature picture of your child. BJ and AJ both had these done and framed while travelling. Many cities have street artists that will do these even from a photo.
- Witches hats to make an obstacle driving course for a child learning to drive a power chair. (Kmart usually stock these small cones or witches hats)
This is not a sponsored post. The gifts included have been included due to our personal experience or I feel they may be good for a child with special needs. I would like to thank Toys and Tales because as always they are patient with me wandering around their store endlessly taking photos and asking questions.
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