It may seem counter-intuitive, but getting children to play with toys is a way to increase their cognitive abilities. Children with Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities and intellectual delays all are classified as “cognitive disabilities”. What better way to stretch these young minds than through the act of play.
“Many parents when trying to help their child learn to focus, reason and remember, think of flash cards and drilling their kids on spelling, but play is a whole lot easier to load on their plate than memorization drills, ” points out Ellen Metrick, Chief Toy Evaluation for AblePlay a website sponsored by the nonprofit National Lekotek Center that researches, rates and reviews mainstream toys for children with disabilities. “Fortunately, there are a lot of games out there that can help kids work on remembering; and focus comes much easier for children in a relaxed, playful situation, ” Metrick adds.
So what are some of the things parents and family should look for when shopping for children with Down syndrome, ADD or ADHD? Here’s Metrick ‘s quick tip list:
- Look for games that have short duration. Memory is something you can build in short bites and motivation is a huge component in remembering. Another great motivator is success and when a child begins to see he has accomplished a short game goal, he will be even more willing to try another day and improve his last score.
- Find games and toys that are visually stimulating. Remember how when a child is young you can take a rattle and get her attention? Well, that did not change as she grew older. Toys with lots of colors or that have lights and sound activation captivate kids and in turn capture their attention and interest.
- Search out toys that have a repetitive component. Every kindergarten and lower elementary school teacher knows that repetition is the secret to memory. Plus the subconscious mind loves repetition and interprets hearing something more than once as being important. There are a lot of toys out there that repeat commands and do not penalize a kid who needs a little practice.
- Games or toys with levels of complexity. Parents should look for games or toys that have an easy, medium and hard level so that kids can feel accomplished and good about winning even at the starter stages. Then they feel motivated and empowered to push themselves a little and go for the next level of accomplishment. Plus it builds their self-esteem and confidence.
- Toys and games with no right or wrong way. Finally you should make sure that your child’s toy box has a few play products in it that contain no mental challenge. Cognitive skills are important, but you also need to let your child take a brain break. This respite actually allows kids to go back to mental tasks with new clarity if they can relax and do something that has no score, or pressure of right or wrong answers. Art projects and musical toys are a great example because they work the non-cognitive part or the brain.
So this holiday season, think of toys as a way to gets kids with Down syndrome, ADHD, or intellectual delays rushing to the table and ready to work on developing and stretching their cognitive abilities. It can be just as easy as finding the right mix of toys or games. How fun is that!