International research into early childhood has shown that play and learning are inextricably intertwined. It has also shown that play provides opportunities to promote skills in all areas of children’s development, especially in settings that are supported by confident and informed adults.
Current research from the neurosciences, especially brain research, supports the very important roles of play and supportive parenting in contributing to children’s well-being and development.
Through play, children learn about themselves, about others, about how things work and about their world. They experience challenges, frustrations, success and the joy of mastery. This is true for all children, including those with special needs.
Learning through play provides a child with a myriad of opportunities to practise new and emerging skills. These can include:
Learning through play is an essential component in supporting the development of new skills for children with special needs. It can contribute to making special needs therapy sessions stimulating and more effective, while adding the ‘fun’ component to what may be repetitive, yet essential, activities to be practised at home.
Just as importantly, guided play can provide the best environment for learning new language and cognitive skills through the creation of situations that can be easily adapted to the child’s level of development.
For all children, play can help in fostering social competence and confidence, together with self-regulation, or the ability to manage one’s own behaviour and emotions. Through play, children learn how to negotiate with others, take turns, control themselves and form relationships with peers. Play is essential in learning how to make friends and get along with others.
Play also provides an outlet for creativity and imagination, especially when it is not restricted by conventions and boundaries that can occur when there is a focus on a finished ‘product’ or an expected outcome.
Opportunities to experience nature and natural products add value to imaginative play, as do ‘open-ended’ toys that can be used in whatever way the child chooses.
Noah’s Ark toy library provides a number of services and programmes to help children with special needs and disabilities learn through play, including:
Toys add magic and excitement to learning – they can make an otherwise boring task fun, for both children and adults! And toys are often the motivator to try repeatedly to achieve a goal.
Noah’s Ark has an interesting range of toys, games and equipment in its toy library in WA to meet the developmental needs of children. While some of our resources are available commercially, many specific toys for children with special needs are sourced from overseas and the variety we offer provides members with a wide choice and the opportunity to change toys and activities frequently.
Of great value to many families is our extensive collection of specialist toys, specifically designed for use by children with disabilities and not available through other toy libraries.
We have a range of switch-operated toys that have been adapted to facilitate their use by children with limited physical or sensory skills.
For a child with a disability, access to switch adapted toys can be much more than play. It can provide them with a sense of mastery and enable them, perhaps for the first time, to engage in an activity enjoyed by their peers. It also may be their first introduction to ‘cause and effect’, an important element in any child’s learning.
Experience shows that such special needs resources promote motor skills, support cognitive and language development and facilitate social and emotional experiences for young children with special needs.
The opportunity to practise the motor skills required to operate a switch toy can later contribute to a child’s ability to operate a computer or mobility device.
Sensory experiences are an important element in all children’s development. Such experiences include touch, movement, body awareness, sight and sound. The brain organises and interprets this information through the process of ‘sensory integration’, providing a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behaviour.
Noah’s Ark provides a variety of resources which can contribute to increasing a child’s sensory awareness, including gross motor toys in WA which encourage the development of balance and vestibular function.
Sensory toys and activities play a critical role in the development of tactile skills in children with vision impairment. The toy library in WA has a range of appropriate toys for this group, who may also benefit from sensory and motor activities that encourage them to explore beyond their immediate environment and experience different tactile and movement sensations.
The development of language and cognitive skills is critical in every child’s preparation for participation in the community – within the family, at school, in social activities and in adult life.
Noah’s Ark carries a large range of toys in its toy library that are chosen to meet needs in this area from infancy to the teenage years, such as:
These toys can all contribute to the development of:
For children with learning disabilities or challenges with language and literacy, the toy library’s range of resources provides a ‘treasure trove’ of learning experiences.
Underpinning the mature skills of writing, using a computer, playing sport, riding a bike and many other activities, are experience and competency in fine and gross motor skills. Children’s involvement in early childhood contributes to their mastery of more sophisticated tasks as they get older.
The Noah's Ark toy library has an extensive range of fine motor resources to support the development of bilateral skills, hand-eye coordination and manipulation.
There is also a range of toys and equipment, including trikes, balance boards, games and gym balls to facilitate gross motor skills and balance. Such resources also benefit children with high needs who enjoy the experience of movement and changes in body position provided through gross motor and ‘rough and tumble’ play.
Noah’s Ark staff offer families and children advice and demonstrations on how to optimise play opportunities through the use and choice of toys, as well as providing a wide range of toys and equipment for children of all abilities through out toy library
Play consultancy is also available to playgroups, care and education facilities, toy libraries and any interested community organisations. The sessions demonstrate how to use toys, play equipment and learning activities to improve cognitive, language, social, physical and emotional outcomes for children.
Supported special needs resources playgroups are an effective means of complementing a child’s therapy program, while also supporting families and linking them to others in similar situations.
The focus of these special needs programmes is to increase the parents’ capacity to help their child by increasing their knowledge and confidence in the area of early childhood development. Toys and resources for the programme are provided by our toy library.