Play is a crucial element in the lives of all children that helps them expand their knowledge of the world, and improve their social and practical skills. Toys can affect child development, and career choices, as well as immerse them into culture and society, which, in turn, helps them establish relations with kids with different potentials and needs.
According to the WHO research data, there are half a billion children around the world with various disabilities and toys that they need and like to play must meet high demands. When put in variable settings, these toys need to function properly and fit the context. Here are several creative toys that can be used successfully for the inclusion of all kids of all needs into play and fun.
Importance of diversity
Focusing on diversity in the classroom from early childhood has proven to be a very important aspect of learning and play as our kids need to understand and appreciate the varieties that exist out there in the world so that they could respect all people and not allow them to divide them. One of the primary goals of all parents and teachers should be to teach children to be proud of who they are and where they come from, their culture and family while also learning how to respect others despite differences.
This could inspire hesitation among many parents but it's evident that kids need to be exposed to diversity early on as this would set the foundations for future inclusivity. Creative and interactive play can be a great way to achieve this. Inclusive toys introduce diversity as a norm and bring multiculturalism into a homogenous classroom.
An inclusive toy box can bring numerous benefits – it will promote positive ethnic/racial identity, cultural identity, sexual orientation and mental health. It’s of great importance to allow kids the opportunity to identify themselves with a toy because if there’s a lack of representation, it can send a harmful message that people like them don’t matter. With diverse toys, members of marginalized groups will feel included and will gain more visibility so kids will have more models that reflect them.
The first step in having the toys you need is customizing them. There are ways you can make over your existing toys so they have disabilities that reflect those of your kids or students. This is beneficial for all children because when they see a toy with a disability, they will be more compassionate, understanding and more accepting of a child with the same issue.
If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, there are companies who make bespoke toys using 3D technology. They can provide things like hearing aids, crutches and white canes for dolls. This might inspire you to use 3D educational toys such as doodling pens and create aids for the dolls you have that can reflect the special needs of your children or students. If you make it a joint project, the kids will feel even more included and validated.
Introducing diverse dolls and figurines
Having diverse dolls and figurines as a part of your toy box allows kids to notice them naturally in the course of play. The aim is not to make playtime a lecture time, but to give kids a wide range of diverse options, to spark their curiosity and learn to accept diversity as a norm. These figurines and dolls typically include a child who uses a wheelchair, a child with a prosthetic arm or leg, a child who is visually impaired and uses a guide dog, a child with crutches as well as multi-ethnic and multi-cultural dolls wearing their traditional clothes.
Using puzzles and memory games
Puzzles have always been very popular with pre-schoolers and besides promoting diversity, they also help in the development of fine motor skills. Puzzles like Never Forget a Face also help develop memory skills and Children of the World Memory help introduce diversity that is not only visible but audible as well as it incorporates language diversity too.
Being creative with art supplies
Having diverse art supplies can help even a group or a class of only Caucasian students to broaden their knowledge about different skin types and kids of other ethnicities will be able to draw self-portraits and family members more accurately which will give them a stronger sense of validation.
Childhood is a time for play, fun and exploration so the toys that support this and include an important element of learning in the play will have a lasting effect on children. Every child embarks on their own unique learning journey and it’s up to parents and teachers to make that journey enjoyable and positive.