Our Favorite Learning Toys

In our house, toys are usually only purchased for special occasions such as birthdays or Christmas, unfortunately for Joshua, his birthday and Christmas are only 2 days apart, so we have learned to be very strategic in what toys we purchase for him. Usually, some of our family will call and ask us to research what we feel he needs.Then, we either order it for them, or tell them the toys that we think will encourage a continuous, yet fun, state of learning for the next year.

Can I just tell you, this process of picking out toys that are both educational and fun is no simple task. (Not to mention, they must be extremely durable because he is very rough on toys!) This venture usually ends up with Daniel and I both watching YouTube videos of all the products before we decide which ones we think will work best for him. I’d honestly say that around Christmas time, we spent hours researching all of our options. It may seem like overkill to many, but Joshua has such different needs that we had to make sure the toys fit the bill on many different levels before it made the list.

Here are a few of our favorite picks:

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Our first pick is the VTech Write and Learn Creative Center. It has so many different option such as writing upper case letters, lower case letters, pictures that coincide with the letter sounds, etc. It even teaches kids the proper way to form the letters. Joshua can easily sit for 15 minutes, at a time, playing with this toy and he uses it often.

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Our next pick is also from Vtech. It’s the VTech Lil’ Speller Phonics Station. We used to have something similar that was a magnet that went on the fridge, but we were always losing the letters. This toy comes with a nice carrying case so you can take it wherever you go. Even if your child can’t spell words yet, it will sound out the letters when they go into the slots and has multiple categories so this toy can grow with your child.

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This next toy was something I just found on Amazon while looking for a product that will encourage Joshua to practice what he is learning in school. It’s such a neat product that has so many additional books that you can purchase. We found them all the way up to 3rd grade math and reading. They have options for numbers, colors, shapes, vocabulary, etc. The learning ability of this toy is endless and my kids all loved to use it.

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EDUCATIONAL INSIGHTS HOT DOTS JR. LET’S MASTER PRE-K READING SET WITH ACE PEN

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In this set, they work on matching letters, letters with pictures, colors, sequencing, etc. It includes 2 books and the special dog pen that lets them know if they chose the correct answer. It’s super cute and the kids love it when they make the right choice.

Our next favorite, is not only educational, but a great “busy” activity if you need your child to sit still for long periods of time. This is the Melissa & Doug Alphabet Splash Cards. (They sell a bunch of different sets as well as books, we have quite a few and love them all!)

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It uses a small paint pen filled with water to “color” the picture. Once it dries, the picture goes back to it’s original state and is ready to be used again. When Joshua first got these, he literally used them for 5 hours straight! I actually had to put them in front of a fan to dry them quicker so they would be ready when he finished a different set. We use these when we go to church to give him a “busy” activity to do so he stays out of trouble.

Let me know if you end up trying any of these toys for your kids!

 

Horse Therapy

Horse therapy….sounds kind of strange. I must admit, I had a lot of doubts about what a horse could do for my son but “desperate times call for desperate measures”. When we first heard about the benefits of horse therapy for kids with special needs, Joshua was 4 and still not talking. We were told that a lot of children who struggled with Apraxia and other speech delays were known to make huge improvements with this form of therapy, so we figured that it couldn’t hurt to give it a try. Unfortunately, horse therapy is a hot commodity and there was a long waiting list to get in….so we signed up and waited…and waited…and waited. Months went by and then we finally got the call that Joshua could go for a summer session because a regular rider had decided not to ride for that session. We jumped on the opportunity and thus began a wonderful friendship between a boy and a horse. (Since then, a regular rider gave up their spot, so Joshua now has a year round spot, for which we are so thankful!)

I was so surprised when we went for Joshua’s first therapy session and he left me willingly to go climb on this giant animal that he had never seen so closely before. I had anticipated a screaming child who was afraid, but it was an instant bond and he absolutely LOVED it!

When we left that day, I remember buckling Joshua in his car seat and he looked at me and clearly said, “mama”. I think my jaw dropped and I just stared at him in amazement. It happened just that one time, but since then his babbling and attempts of more sounds has increased immensely. Some may say it was a coincidence, but I’m hopeful that this form of therapy will continue to expand his ability to talk and strengthen his low muscle tone among many other things.

How it works

While he rides, the instructor has the riders do various activities on the horse. One of Joshua’s favorite things is a wall with a board that has shapes cut out of it and he has to throw a bean bag through different openings. He’s actually a great shot! They do other exercises as well that encourage core building, as this is an area that many special needs kids struggle with.

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Horse therapy also increases sensory input, helps with body rhythm and awareness, as well as works on posture. Children are encouraged to use verbal cues to make the horse stop and go. Joshua does hand gestures to tell the horse to “walk on” and “stop”. Educational needs are also incorporated into lessons, all while the children are riding.

High Hopes, where Joshua rides, is largely made up of volunteers. They do anything from helping with horses, cleaning stalls, and being a side walker to make sure a child stays on their horse. Joshua has been blessed to have a wonderful volunteer who signs up each session (anywhere from 6-12 weeks) to walk next to him and keep him safe.  She gives up her time each and every Tuesday just to spend time with Joshua. We are so thankful for amazing people who want to invest in our son’s life. Without people like Ms. Barbara, High Hopes wouldn’t be able to allow as many children this wonderful opportunity.

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The Cost

Horse therapy is not without a price. We went into our first session not knowing what the cost would be and then halfway through the 6 week course, we received the bill and were told that they had used up almost all of their scholarship money already, so they couldn’t help us very much for that session. We really wanted him to continue riding and give this therapy a chance to work, but definately would not be able to cover the hundreds of dollars it was going to cost each session. We prayed about what to do and then got a letter in the mail telling us that an anonymous donor had paid for Joshua’s tuition. I cried. It was such an amazing gift and confirmation that Joshua was supposed to be in the program as well as a reminder that God always provides. Since then, we have been able to get scholarships that cover a large portion of the cost and allows Joshua to continue to participate without us going into debt.

If you have a child with any kind of special need, delay, need for PT, speech, or OT…I highly recommend giving horse therapy a try. The success stories are amazing. Joshua loves it and often signs “horse” to ask if it’s the day to go. He gets so excited when he wakes up on Tuesdays and I tell him it is the day he gets to see his “horsey”. His smile and obvious love for it, makes it worth the time and energy it takes to get him there every week.