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Friday, January 27, 2012

Favorite Gross Motor Toys for Developmentally Delayed Toddlers

A significant number of internationally adopted children arrive in their new homes with at least mild gross motor delays.  Many of them are late walkers, but even those that can walk often lack core strength and/or the coordination of similarly aged children.  The Tongginator did not walk until almost 19 months of age.  Much of that can be attributed to her probable premature birth, but her significant sensory issues did not help matters.  Squirt, now 18 months, began walking two days before Christmas (woo-hoo!).  We attribute her gross motor delays solely to institutionalized care the first eleven months of her life.  (Even the almost-hip-displasia came about as a result of life in a crib.)

For those unfamiliar with the term "gross motor," it doesn't involve skills such picking your nose or licking the trash can or throwing toys into the toilet bowl.  Although maybe it totally should.  No, gross motor simply means large muscle movements such as sitting, crawling, walking, jumping, and on and on.  Recent studies show at least 33% of internationally adopted children display significant gross motor delays at the time of adoption, and many more display mild delays attributed to a lack of core strength and/or exposure.

Squirt's been plugging away for the last six months, working with me and with a physical therapist, building her core strength and gross motor skills.  Several toys helped us along the way, so I thought I'd share our top ten favorites that promote gross motor development.  I included toys that can easily accommodate a child's growing abilities, since most internationally adopted children move from delayed to all-caught-up fairly rapidly.  I'd love for y'all to include links to your favorites in the comment section below, along with why it's a favorite.  Here are the favorites of Tonggu House, in no particular order (and no, I did not nor will I receive any financial gain for these recommendations):

The Bilibo.  

Squirt loves this funky toy.  At first we'd place a small ball in the bilibo so that Squirt could rock the "bowl" back and forth to get the ball rolling and spinning.  Then we started throwing bean bags and balls into the bilibo.  Now she loves to use it as a "chair" sit-n-spin and also to try to climb on top of it when it's flipped over.  I know before long she'll be using it as an actual sit-n-spin.  The bilibo is a world favorite.  It's won several international awards in Germany, Switzerland and the UK.
Sensory Balls.

Y'all can get any brand of sensory balls; this just happens to be the brand we have, since my sister-in-law gifted Squirt with these for Christmas.  Bumpy balls are easier to catch and grip, which is what makes them so much easier for children who have gross motor delays.  I'd also recommend getting a package of assorted sizes, since toddlers and preschoolers tend to perform different actions with different sized balls.

A Ball Drop.

The brand we have (linked above) received mixed reviews because the pieces separate when children place their weight on it as they learn to pull up, stand, squat, etc.  This was never an issue for the late developing Tongginator or Squirt, but I can see where it would be for most children.  Regardless of the brand you pick, a ball drop of some kind is a good option.  I like this brand because it doesn't make scary noises, and you can add to the set as your child ages. It not only encourages gross and fine motor skills, it also teaches cause-and-effect.

An Acrylic Shoe Mirror.
Okay, so this sounds a little funny, but this - more than anything else - got Squirt to raise her head when she was laying on her tummy, and to sit when she wanted to lay down.  She loved, Loved, LOVED looking at herself in the mirror this summer, and she still uses it occasionally, stopping to squat down and check herself out.  This past summer Squirt's therapist recommended a floor mirror of some kind.  I could not seem to find one that was large enough and clear enough (most baby mirrors aren't actual mirrors).  My friend Dory, a former buyer for Ann Taylor, creatively thought "shoe mirror."  It was absolutely perfect!  In fact, our therapist now recommends shoe mirrors to many of her clients.

My First Toddler Play Kitchen.

What I love about this toddler kitchen is that it isn't too tall.  Most plastic play kitchens are not suitable for toddlers because their short little selves can't even reach the pretend counters.  This toddler-sized wooden kitchen is great for short one-year-olds.  The Tongginator used it back in 2005, and Squirt continues to enjoy it today.  We are careful to use appropriate food and dish accessories (no! choking! hazards! allowed!), but otherwise this is perfect to encourage standing, bending, opening cabinets and all manner of things.  One word of warning: if you have a child pulling heavily to stand, know that this kitchen may wobble a little or even tip over.  It didn't happen to Squirt, but watching it - I'd say it's a possibility.  Add a few soup cans to the cabinet and it should solve the problem.

A Shopping Bag or Purse.

Another odd one to include, I know, but bear with me.  We don't actually own the purse linked above (Squirt's purse is no longer for sale), but a toddler-friendly purse or shopping bag is excellent for encouraging gross motor development.  Just place a few heavy toys in the bag and - wham! - your child will carry a bag low to the ground.  It's important for children to learn to walk while carrying items, especially with hands at waist-level or below.

Kids Safety Trampoline.

I love this toddler trampoline because even non-walkers can climb onto it, pull to stand using the safety bar, and bounce away.  Squirt has yet to actually jump, but she loves to climb on and off, and to bounce on this trampoline.  I love it because it looks and feels exceptionally safe (and I'm one who hates kid trampolines).  Added bonus: Santa brought this for Squirt several weeks ago, and it only took "him" five minutes to assemble.  My one blech about this is that it does take up quite a bit of space (35" by 35"), but I guess that's life with a toddler.

1-2-3 Grow With Me Walker/ Ride-On Toy/ Shopping Cart.

Tonggu Grammy and the Colonel gifted this little gem to Squirt over Christmas, but truly any "grow-with-me" walking/ riding toy would do.  This one is exceptionally easy to push, with wheels that glide smoothly over most surfaces, but it's also a major pain to assemble (just ask my dad - heh).  I also like that it has a toy dump for each option (ooh - let's throw the toys in there!).  Squirt's still using this as a walker, but we'll probably switch to the ride-on option before her second birthday.  When it comes to walkers and internationally adopted toddlers, in my opinion why bother purchasing "just a" walker that your child will use for such a short period of time while he or she plays developmental catch-up?

A Pull Toy.
At the moment, the Tongginator loves this pull toy more than Squirt, but whatever.  Any pull toy will do, but I happen to love this Egg Tumbler by Holgate that appeared in Squirt's Christmas stocking.  The "egg" rolls round and round while you pull it behind you.  I also love that it's wooden instead of plastic.  I have nothing against plastic toys, but I do have something against a toy room filled with only plastic toys.

A Push Toy.

Our family happens to love Educo's Butterfly Push Pal Push Toy, but really any push toy will do.  Push and pull toys really encourage gross motor development, so be sure to include one of each in your toddler's arsenal of toys.  At this point - as a relatively new walker - Squirt simply loves chewing on the stick; however, my seven-year-old Tongginator, formerly known as The Butterfly, loves how this toy's pretty wings flap up and down as it's pushed along.  I love that it's not annoyingly noisy.  It's a new national favorite - it won an Oppenheim Best Toy Award in 2011.

So what are all y'alls favorite toys to encourage gross motor development?


Jennifer said...

We had those same balls for Mary. They are great and we still use them to this day just for regular ball play time.

The one toy I specifically bought for Mary's PT needs that you didn't list is a Lamaze Spin & Explore. We had the lady bug version though. This was good for increasing upper body strength and for teaching her to hold her head up.

As for mirrors, in case someone can't get a shoe mirror, we bought a 4-pack of mirrors from Ikea and added them to the end of a toy storage piece. They come with the sticky stuff included and are only $6.00. Actually, there are a lot of toys at Ikea that are great for building gross motor skills.

autumnesf said...

Hah! Reading this reminded me of the ball drop we had for Mouse. Scared the crap out of her!!!!!! It was extreme. She was sure that and balloons were straight from the devil. LOL!

The Byrd's Nest said...

Oh we had lots of those toys when they were younger:) Lottie LOVED that ball drop! The child lives to play with balls and it even said so on her paperwork from the orphanage:) lol

Since we don't have some of that cool stuff here for our sensory activities we put heavy books in a laundry basket and push and pull it around:) ha ha

delucchi family treasures said...

Hi there, just having a little catch up on your blog. Come say hello on mine :-)
Love Jules xxxx
PS what happened after watching the dvd??

Kerrie (and Jason) said...

I don't have any kids yet but I reckon a small square container (I am thinking Australian 2 litre icecream container here but I don't know what you have overseas) and a few smaller cups for water play would also be great. Pouring the water from one cup to the other and into the bucket also helps with these skills and can be done in the bath or out in the back yard in warmer weather.

Stefanie said...

LOVE this post! Wow, would have been all OVER it when Isabelle was younger, she would have benefited so much from much of your list :)
It's great to hear sweet Squirt has 'graduated' from much of these... GO SQUIRT!!

supergrrl7 said...

L had all kinds of gross motor delays and muscle weakness in her legs (probably from being in a walker). This toy was awesome for her: http://www.fisher-price.com/fp.aspx?st=2341&e=product&pid=55415&pcat=bulnl

It could be adjusted for both sitting and standing. She loved it.

As for other gross motor improving options, CARPET was huge for L. She refused to try to walk on our hardwood floors for four months, but one weekend at a friend's house with wall to wall carpet and she was walking like a pro. Girlfriend isn't dumb, it hurts to fall on hardwood.


Sharie said...

Amelia was only 9.5 months at adoption so she wasn't very delayed (Thank God). She was pulling herself up and climbing up the sides of the crib the day we met. She is naturally muscular so even though she was malnourished she had muscle tone.
She walked around furniture the first week we were together and was climbing up stairs a long time before she walked (at about 13 months).
That said, we had a lot of toys similar to these - I just didn't realize they were for anything but playing. We had a ball drop and several tables with switches to flip and gadgets to play with that Amelia loved -they encouraged her to be up and walking around them. I was lucky I was able to borrow them from a friend, but I would have bought any of them.

Kelly the Overthinker said...

great, great resource list here. Totally sharing this one.

Anonymous said...

They are all nice toys. My sister also had a lot of delays and all of these toys would have worked wonders. I find that in order to help with gross motor is to find the child's favorite toy and some how incorporate it into that child's current goal. I remember when at one my sis her was still not cawing, we got her to crawl using a necklace.
I totally agree with the mirror. I found that when my sister saw herself, she was likely to copy the mirror.
You have some really great toys posted.

Kirstine said...

I have been searching high and low for toys to support gross motor skill development. Apart from yours, here is what I've come up with:

A big mattres intended for play - the kids love to jump around and it gets the grown ups to sit down and play along too. I've put smaller mattresses up against the wall and that corner of the room attracts kids like flies!

A giant ball / a small exercise ball. Great fun with a baby or toddler.

A peanutball / exercise ball in peanut shape. Kids can 'ride' it and train balance.

Fabric coated foam cubes. Eg 10 inch by 10 inch. I had these cut out in foam and tailored the fabric coating myself because I couldn't find them readymade. Well worth the effort though - the kids love to play with them.

A step. I know this sounds simple but my son loves to step up and down and up and down if he can find a box or anything with the right hight.

Hulahop rings.

Thanks for sharing!!