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I’ve worked as the manager of the Learning Express Toys in Roseville, CA for 15 years now and wanted to share some of my experiences of finding toys for children with special needs. Let me preface this by saying that while I am not a qualified professional in child development, I do have quite a bit of life experience. My daughter Kiki is 20 years old, and has autism. She was diagnosed at 20-months-old. Although she had very little language ability, she has been “mainstreamed” with the other children in her class since kindergarten. This was possible as a result of the time we dedicated to turning every play opportunity into a learning opportunity.
Years ago, I believed the only way to buy toys for my child was online or in catalogs because I assumed that toys used for therapy were different and only available through special educator channels. Oh, was I wrong! While working at Learning Express Toys, I have found that we have an entire range of items, including “everyday products,” that can help families with special needs children bond, share, and learn all while working on their individual goals.
I believe that there are many parents, like me, who need help finding the perfect toy for their child’s specific needs. After all, there are so many factors that affect how a child with special needs will interact with a toy, such as age, disability, and the skills and goals that the child is working to achieve. All of this information allows our Toy Experts to identify products that would be the right fit for your child's needs/interests. Additionally, our stores offer many hands-on opportunities for customers to try out our products and discover their play value.
Here are just a few of the many great products we carry that can be used as tools for learning and development. Keep in mind that the toys listed below are great suggestions for all children, no matter what their needs may be.
Polka Dot Hopper>This colorful ride-on toy allows kids to bounce and scoot around with ease. The Hopper is made of a durable material and has a sturdy handle for kids to grip while bouncing safely around the house or yard. When my daughter was on the Hopper, I would sit on the floor in front of her, and it helped increase eye contact, engaged all of those important core muscles, and improved her focus while we sang our ABCs and worked on specific goals. We would also turn the Hopper so that the handle was facing out to the side and use it as a therapy ball, laying Kiki over the ball on her stomach or back during activities. Today Kiki sits on the Hopper while working on the computer and catching up on Facebook. This is still a must-have item in our daily routine and key to Kiki's outstanding posture!
See & Spell Kids can place colorful wooden letters in their proper spot to spell words on the two-sided wooden boards. This toy engages multiple senses as children learn to see, touch, and feel the letters. Saying the words out loud also adds an auditory element to the experience. See & Spell not only helps with spelling, it is also a great multi-kinesthetic toy. I would often let Kiki use a crayon inside a few of the boards after we removed the letters so she could trace the outlines inside the boundaries. Stencils can be challenging so this was the perfect solution for us and is, in my opinion, an essential toy!
Floor Puzzles Melissa & Doug, one of our top manufacturers at Learning Express Toys, is known for high quality wooden puzzles. A regular puzzle can be difficult for children with special needs, but my favorite, the Alphabet Train Floor puzzle, is much easier for the child because the animal pieces are arranged alphabetically and phonetically. This and many other floor puzzles also offer a great social and language opportunity for you and your child as you work together during tummy time.
Wooden Floor Easel and Accessories It seems so basic, but the Wooden Floor Easel is a crucial item at my house. Many children with special needs are deficient in the development of fine motor muscles in their hands, which can be improved through art. Our OT (occupational therapist) also told us that standing to create art is much better than sitting at a desk or table because standing engages more muscles, as well as the mind.
We used the easel in many different ways at my house. With the dry erase side, I would teach my daughter to spell a word and then magically erase the word with a clean finger. She loved the cause and effect. And, writing with a thick, easy-to-grasp dry erase marker was much less frustrating than using a crayon or pencil that she would have to push down in order to write.
We also spent countless hours painting. Neat freaks will want to keep their easel projects in the basement or garage during winter weather. My daughter must have painted a thousand sheets of recycled paper using simple brush strokes of color. I can still picture her hand moving up and down over and over again. It was when those brush strokes slowly began to curve that I could see the rainbow she’d been shooting for the whole time.
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the US and presents challenges across a lifetime. Families that have a child with autism face costs of over $60,000 annually. Autism Speaks funds research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and a cure for autism. The organization raises public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society. In support of Autism Speaks’ mission, Learning Express Toys, with more than 120 store locations across the US, is partnering with the organization in 2015-2016.
LE Toys is offering various ways for shoppers to donate to this life-changing organization starting this month during Autism Awareness. Throughout April, customers will have the opportunity to add their names to Puzzle Piece cards in exchange for a donation. Stop by your neighborhood Learning Express Toys and donate today!
Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment below and share some of your favorite activities and products for special needs children.
Learning Express Toys, the nation’s leading franchisor of specialty toy stores, announces a yearlong partnership with Autism Speaks. As a proud supporter of Autism Speaks’ mission, Learning Express Toys, with more than 120 locations across the country, will offer various ways for shoppers to donate to this life-changing organization.
During the month of April—Autism Awareness month—in exchange for a $2 or more donation, shoppers will be asked to add their names to Puzzle Piece cards to show their commitment to Autism Speaks. Throughout the year, LE Toys also will be holding sensory shopping fundraisers and Play Day Fundraisers to benefit the nonprofit dedicated to supporting people with Autism. Continue reading
Learning Express Toys offers a solution that takes the guessing out of birthday presents for children! The Birthday Box program helps our customers find a perfect gift and sets Learning Express Toys apart from other retailers.
Three weeks prior to your child’s birthday, you can set up your Birthday Box at any Learning Express Toys location. Your little boy or girl will become overjoyed looking through the aisles and piling toys into a giant box. When the box is full, a special nametag will be placed on the front of the box and put on display. Let your party guests know that your child has a Birthday Box at Learning Express Toys, and your guests can purchase from the box. They can even do so from the comfort of their home, by calling in the order to the store! For families with friends and relatives across the country, the Birthday Box is the best solution to finding just the right gift. Continue reading
Learning Express Toys and Rainbow Loom teamed up with the Milwaukee Brewers to host a special Rainbow Loom Night event at Miller Park on Thursday, July 24th. It was a night full of family fun and creativity as kids learned unique designs using the new Monster Tail loom.
Loom Experts from Learning Express Toys of Brookfield, WI guided more than 300 kids through the art of Rainbow Looming by demonstrating how to create 5 different Monster Tail designs; including a never-before-seen exclusive design created by Fen Ng. The children also learned how to attach Hank the Dog charms (inspired by the Brewers’ mascot) to their favorite bracelets.
Parents and kids alike were fascinated by the Evolution of The Rainbow Loom booth wherethe creation of this extraordinary toy was explained through a progression of original prototypes. Everyone enjoyed taking pictures with Jimmy Kimmel’s “Suit of The Loom” which was brought by Rainbow Loom inventor, Choon Ng to be displayed at the event.
People lined up awaiting the chance to meet Choon and have their shirts, looms, organizer cases, and much more autographed by the inventor himself. Choon revealed his new Finger Loom to the crowd as attendees were given the new product courtesy of Choon’s Design. Everyone, including Learning Express Toys of Brookfield owner, Bill Lewis, expressed delight in this sensational new loom!
Coupons provided at the event are now being redeemed at Learning Express Toys of Brookfield with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the MaxLove Project, along with a matching donation from Choon’s Design.
Nothing is more poignant or humbling than meeting a child who is courageously battling cancer. Our Learning Express Toys franchisees discovered that this past June when introduced to Max Wilford at our annual convention in Palm Springs, CA.
Max, more commonly known as SuperMax, is a 7-year-old from Orange County, CA who was diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago. An upbeat and friendly little guy, SuperMax is the inspiration for the MaxLove Project—a 100% volunteer-powered, grassroots, nonprofit organization that helps SuperKids like Max thrive while trying to overcome cancer.
Max touched the hearts of millions of families across the country when he was first featured on the Jimmy Kimmel show in February. Kimmel heard about Max’s love of Rainbow Loom and decided to encourage his fans to create and submit Rainbow Loom designs that would be sewn together to make a giant “Suit of the Loom”.
Kids across the nation put their fingers and imaginations to work making hundreds of intricate loom creations, including everything from bracelets and chains to animals and even bowties! Our very own Learning Express Toys of Mt. Lebanon hosted Rainbow Loom events to help customers create designs that were submitted to Jimmy Kimmel along with a video that was spotlighted on one of the episode>.
After each band was diligently sewn together, Kimmel sported his amazing technicolor loom suit on the show along with his sidekick, SuperMax, in a matching cape. The suit was auctioned off and Rainbow Loom inventor, Choon Ng, purchased it for $40,000 which was donated to the MaxLove Project. Our franchisees had the pleasure of taking photos with the Suit of the Loom and SuperMax himself at our Palm Springs convention where Max’s mom, Audra, was a special guest speaker.
Audra, Chief Hope Officer of the nonprofit, spoke to Learning Express Toys about possible partnership opportunities. Our store owners were thrilled to have the chance to join forces with MaxLove to help SuperMax achieve his dream of building a 100-mile Rainbow Loom chain. Learning Express Toys founder and CEO, Sharon DiMinico reminds us that “Giving back through fundraising and charitable programs is the very essence of who we are.”
Leading up to the MaxLove International Loom-A-Thon Against Cancer in September, Learning Express Toys stores will be encouraging children to craft their own individual Rainbow Loom chains to be added to Max’s 100-mile creation. Some of our stores have even set goals for their customers and staff. Learning Express Toys of Roseville, CA hopes to craft a one-mile long chain. In addition, some of our owners will be traveling to Orange County, CA, in September to attend the Second Loom-A-Thon Against Cancer. Rick Derr from Learning Express Toys of Lake Zurich, Il, who initiated the connection with Audra, will attend the Loom-A-Thon, as well as Learning Express Toys of Reno, NV owner, Suzanne Peterson. Author of a #1 best-selling craft book, The Loomatic’s Interactive Guide to The Rainbow Loom, Peterson will be signing her book at the event.
Through this partnership, we look forward to involving the entire country in this admirable goal and helping spread Max’s heartfelt story and dream. Don’t miss the chance to participate in a larger-than-life activity and show your support for the MaxLove Project! See your local Learning Express Toys store for more details on Rainbow Loom events and activities.
Peace. Love. Loom.