Friday, March 18, 2016

Playopolis Toys - Exploring the Sense of Touch

It is normal for children to seek out sensory experiences as part of their natural development. When your child has a disability or developmental disorder, it can be difficult for them to explore their environment like other children, and often need help finding sensory stimulation.

The sense of touch, or tactile perception, is a complex sensory system that is critical for ALL children (and adults for that matter), not only those with disabilities. The tactile sense is how we interpret information we get from the receptors on our skin. When we touch an object, our nervous system receives the information and helps us analyze the tactile qualities such as texture, pressure, and temperature, to determine what it is we are feeling.

When the tactile sense is fully functioning, children are better able to respond to all of the sensory input they receive throughout the day. Some children, however, experience difficulty processing this tactile information. They may be hypersensitive to touch, causing them to avoid certain tactile experiences, or they may be under-reactive to touch, where they would seek out more tactile input to give their bodies what they need.

Brennen enjoys all sorts of sensory stimulation - from motion, touch, sight, sound and smell, he uses his senses to explore and interpret his environment. He lets us know what he likes and what he doesn't, and he has obvious preferences for certain things. We have a Snoezelen Room in our home, which allows him to enjoy a wide range of sensory experiences without having to leave the house. Our Snoezelen Room includes a wonderful blend of sights, sounds, textures and aromas within an environment that is filled with a variety of easy to use devices, buttons, switches, and easy to grasp objects with different textures. 

This post is focused on touch, so I have compiled a bunch of fun toys and tools from Playopolis Toys that we use to provide opportunities for play and exploration using the tactile senses. These toys are great for use at home, or are easy to take along with you to help your child meet their sensory needs while on the go.

Playopolis Toys provides toys that encourage children to play, to learn what happens as a result of their actions, and to build on their skills. In addition to their online store, Playopolis Toys offers workshops on selecting and using toys for children with disabilities. These hands-on learning opportunities enable special needs programs like mine to make better selections and to explore all the ways these toys reward play and enhance development.

I consulted with Christina Wallerstein, President and 'Chief Play Officer' at Playopolis Toys, in selecting appropriate toys for our group. Christina says, "All children learn differently. We offer toys with universal design to maximize sensory awareness as well as gross and fine motor, language, and cognitive development among children with diverse abilities. These toys offer distraction and multi-sensory stimulation, particularly beneficial to special needs children. As the mother of a son with learning disabilities, I understand the challenges of finding safe, durable, developmentally appropriate toys and activities that allow a child to be a child - to lose himself in joyful play with toys chosen to reflect his preferences and his abilities and designed to stimulate further success."

Here are some of our favourite texture toys from Playopolis Toys!

The Aku Ring - These soft, super flexible rings feature a unique studded surface that makes grasping and catching easy. It's funny to watch children's reactions to this one - Brennen doesn't like the spiky surface, but others are really drawn to it!

Brain Noodles - These are jumbo 18-inch long, silky fiber stems that bend and twist any way you want! The Brain Noodles invite open-ended play and provide visual and tactile stimulation. Bright colors, soft, silky texture, and flexibility make Brain Noodles an ideal tool for sensory-motor integration and occupational therapy. They are like giant pipe cleaners, without the sharp end!

Teachable Touchables - Smooth or bumpy, fuzzy or furry, soft or scratchy? Children build tactile awareness and vocabulary as they explore ten distinct pairs of textured squares. Each pillow or patch measures approximately three inches and fits easily into small hands and into the cloth drawstring bag. You can make patterns or play pairing games, and they are portable so you can take them with you on the go!

Bead Ball - Stressed out? Need relief? Grip a Bead Ball and knead away your stress. This ultra soft, flexible, thermoplastic ball filled with hundreds of brightly colored squeezable soft beads invites play, relieves stress and restores a sense of calm. It is the ideal exercise for building hand and finger strength.

Oddballs - These balls offer unique textures, patterns and bright colors that children love to bounce, kick, squeeze, roll, chase and play with! Each ball looks, feels, and plays different, providing a unique sensory experience.

Tactile Bars - This interactive sensory game strengthens tactile perception and concentration. Each wooden bar holds 9 smaller textured bars that can be removed to match together or create a variety of tactile combinations. Brennen loves the feel of the bristles and the ridged surfaces.

Wikki Stix - Bright and colorful, nontoxic Wikki Stix bend easily, enabling a child to create pictures, letters, even stand-up flexible figures. They provide tactile stimulation and help develop fine motor skills. Wikki Stix don't break, dry out or stiffen, and can be reused over and over again to make all kinds of fun creations!

Tangles - The perfect manipulative for stress relief and hand therapy! These twistable tangles come in a variety of sizes and textures, including 'Tangle Relax Therapy', which features a soft, pliable coating and distinctive raised tactile nodes. Tangles are easy to grip and manipulate, are lightweight and portable, and are endless fun!

We have been having so much fun with these texture toys! Thank you to Christina and Playopolis Toys!

Watch this wonderful video on Playopolis Toys and their idea of how children learn through creativity. 

"Kids learn best when we respect their ideas, when we trust them enough to let them use the toys that
 we put out for them in ways that are meaningful to them." - Christina Wallerstein


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