Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Toy Doctor's Prescription for Play. (Toys)

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

The Toy Doctor's Prescription for Play. (Toys)

Article excerpt

Following are two articles that look at some adaptation possibilities.' The "Toy Doctor," who generously shares his time and skill in making toys accessible, provides ideas for do-it-yourselfers (though some will require a bit of knowledge of tools and basic wiring); and using magnets to enable kids to experience the wonder of play time.

Teacher Claudia Wood knows how important play is to children, but when she first came to Bloorview MacMillan Children's Centre School, in Toronto, Canada, she couldn't find any toys her kindergarten students could use.

That's because many had physical disabilities that made it difficult for them to manipulate commercial toys.

"Children learn by playing, but when I came here 10 years ago, there were few toys my students could play with," Claudia recalls. Standard puzzle pieces were difficult for her kids to pick up, while electronic toys had buttons, switches, or handles that required a high degree of strength or precision to operate.

That changed when volunteer Roy Loach came on the scene.

Roy--known affectionately as the "Toy Doctor" to her class--has taken on the role of adapting toys so that they require less manual dexterity. That includes wiring mechanical toys with jacks so that the kids can operate them by hitting a large switch and putting wooden knobs on puzzle pieces so they're easier to pick up. "Roy has made our toys accessible," Claudia says.

Roy, 72, is a retired Toronto engineer who once owned a company with a machine shop. "I've always enjoyed mechanically inclined work, and there's nothing more rewarding than the smiles children give me for fixing their toys," Roy says.

Three shelves of toys in Claudia's class are covered with Roy's handiwork. An example is a set of tiny alphabet ink stamps. Roy drilled small holes into each stamp and then glued wooden dowels into them so that they could easily be picked up and used. Roy estimates he's completed about 30 projects with his metal and woodworking tools.

Claudia says the adapted toys allow her kids to play independently--an important part of their development.

Many of Roy's adaptations are "quite simple for the average handy person," he says. "If you don't have the tools or knowledge yourself, seek out help from a friend or relative who enjoys woodworking. Always check with your child's teacher or therapist to make sure that your adaptations are appropriate."

Installing Touch Pad Switches

Push a toggle and a toy dog walks. Slide a switch and the propeller on a toy helicopter spins. Battery-operated toys like these provide powerful cause and effect learning opportunities for kids. But for children with fine motor problems, they present a huge challenge. That's because most have a small on/off switch that requires strength and precision to operate. This problem can be remedied by installing a touch-pad switch.

What you'll need: A small Phillips screw driver; cutting pliers; electric drill with a 1/4-inch drill; soldering iron; a 1/8-inch phone jack (#274-248A at Radio Shack); and an Ability or touch-pad switch, which can be bought from a switch supplier online, or which you can make yourself (see below).

How to do it: Take the toy apart with a screwdriver. Choose toys that don't have plush coverings, because the coverings are difficult to remove and then replace. …

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