Making learning fun is at the heart of what our early intervention therapists and teachers do, and with Christmas around the corner, we had a chat to find out what their young clients love most.
1. Stimulus response toys
Stimulus response toys are a wonderful way to engage young children with hearing or vision loss through cause-and-effect.
The toys are useful for speech development, as our therapists find children are usually highly motivated as the random nature of the reward means they are kept on their toes for the response. They are also great for practicing counting, and explaining concepts such as quantity, sequencing and predicting.
Some favourites from therapist consultant Andrew from our Liverpool centre and teacher consultant Maria from our Strathfield centre include:
Feed the pig hamburger disks and wait for his belly to pop!
Pete the pirate sits on a barrel. Take turns to insert a sword into the barrel and wait for Pete to pop up.
Push down his teeth, and at some point his jaw will snap shut.
This vintage classic includes over 20 Elmo sounds. The more you tickle Elmo’s tummy, the harder he laughs and wiggles!
Car ramps are great for teaching stimulus response for hearing tests and cochlear implant mapping. Charmaine, a Teacher of the Deaf at our Rouse Hill centre, says they are also fun and encourage language around commands such as ‘Ready, set, go!’, turn taking ‘My turn’ ‘Your turn’ and making requests, ‘More!’ ‘I want the red car’. Check out this one from Sensory Space.
2. Picture books with deaf characters
Representation is everything, and we’ve put together a shortlist of some of our favourite picture books featuring characters who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Liam is just like any other four-year-old and loves pretending he is a superhero. But... Liam already has an extra special power. It is one that helps him hear hour after hour! Learn about cochlear implants through this playful, rhyming story of Liam and his real-life super power!
Told in rhyme, this uplifting story with gentle illustrations is based on a real little girl who doesn't realise her ears aren't working like most people's do. When her family searches for answers, she discovers the wonder of hearing aids and the sounds of the world.
This humorous depiction of hearing, before and after hearing aids, makes it a best-seller with children and audiologists.
Freddie finds a fairy, tangled in a tree. Freddie is desperate for a pet, so when he rescues Bessie-Belle and she offers to grant his wishes, he knows just what to ask for. The only problem is that Bessie-Belle can't hear very well, and Freddie tends to mumble, and Freddie is given a net. So they keep trying. Luckily, the Fairy Queen is on hand to explain.
Follow the adventures of the loveable dinosaur, Rex, and his friends, Dachy, Steggie and Emmy.
3. Braille and tactile books for young children
DK Braille is a series of books with braille and tactile images for blind and partially sighted children, or sighted children with blind parents. They combine uncontracted Unified English Braille and large type with high-contrast colours, embossed images, and tactile cutout shapes for children to feel with their fingers.
Maria, a teacher consultant from our Strathfield centre, says they are an excellent introduction to early pre-braille. The combination of text alongside the braille enables sighted parents to share the reading experience with their child who has vision loss, and for sighted children to share with their parents who are blind or have low vision.
Through die-cut shapes, embossed images, and braille or large format text, this book helps children learn, find, and remember their shapes.
This book combines braille, large print, and high-contrast photography with clear and predictive layouts for curious young readers. The accompanying story in print and braille takes readers on a counting adventure in the park.
4. Tactile toys and games
These toys and games are a great way for children to use tactile skills prior to learning braille.
Reach in and feel all the textures! Help the fuzzy dog find all the bones he hid in his doghouse. All bones are textured and made out of rubber or cloth and feature smooth, silky, scratchy, bumpy, ridged and other textures.
Sold by our friends over at Vision Australia, this educational game encourages kids to explore early maths skills in treat-themed, imaginative play. Better yet, it’s NDIS-consumable eligible.
5. Sensory toys
Teacher and consultant Maria says the Stack and Learn and Fisher Price Piggy Bank are both excellent toys for children with low vision as the sounds and lights provide opportunities to use vision as well as the senses of touch and hearing.
The Firestorm audible soccer ball makes sound when it moves, which is a great way for children who are blind to join in ball games with their friends.
6. Baby dolls
Baby play provides a range of opportunities to practice sounds such as ‘Sh sh’, ‘Yum yum’, ‘Wa wa, wa’, imitate physical actions (e.g. feeding, rocking, patting, hugging) develop early nouns (e.g. bed, bath, bottle, spoon, brush, pram, chair), develop verb phrases (e.g. eating, drinking, sleeping, sitting, brushing, crying, washing, pushing, walking, riding, rocking), follow directions (e.g. ‘Put the baby to bed’, ‘Put the baby in the bath’, ‘Give the baby the bottle’) and to learn body parts.
For young babies aged nine months to two years, Teacher of the Deaf Charmaine from our Rouse Hill centre uses medium-sized soft baby dolls, with a blanket, bottle, bowl, spoon, and brush, and for slightly older children she uses a set of small babies and props. She recommends the Lots of Love Babies Playsets and JC Toys La Baby.
7. Sound puzzles
This Melissa & Doug Farm Animals Sound Puzzle is a wooden puzzle that makes realistic animal sounds. It’s a favourite among young children who love hearing when they place an animal in the correct place.
Speech pathologist Eleanor uses sound puzzles in her sessions to practice imitating and differentiating between sounds, and to increase her young clients’ vocabulary and memory skills.
It’s no secret that bubbles bring a burst of joy. Useful for practicing counting, sizes, and following instructions, they are a hit with all ages and make a great stocking filler. Kmart has a good range of low-cost bubbles.
9. Ride-on toys
Ride-on toys like the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe can be used indoors and outdoors, fueling imaginative play. At a recent playgroup session for children who are deaf or hard of hearing at our North Rocks centre, they proved a big hit, used by our therapists and teachers for expanding vocabulary and incorporating songs. Plus, there are varying designs to suit children’s interests.
A low-cost way to have fun, playdough is useful for developing fine motor skills and vocabulary. It’s easy to make at home and our teachers love adding sparkles or glitter, scent or textures to appeal to a variety of senses.
There are endless possibilities for play with dollhouses and the many accessories you can get to go with them. From practicing language around routines to identifying clothing and items, they are a world inside a world. Kidkraft has a wide range of dollhouses.
Puppets are a big favourite among our therapists, particularly ones with open mouths so that children can use them to practice actions such as speaking, eating and singing. Our Program Manager of Early Intervention and School, Bronwyn, says the Ikea Djungelskog Glove Puppet is a big hit in sessions and a great ice-breaker.
For children learning Auslan or key word signs, signing puppets can be used to model natural gestures and signs, helping develop their receptive and expressive language. They have slots at the shoulders to insert arms into the hands and make the puppets come to life. Bilby has a range of signing puppets available for purchase.