The Toybox Tools: Putting Things Together
While doing some reading and research recently, I came across a really cool initiative called The Toybox Tools, a project with Hasbro (one of the big toy companies) and The Autism Project. The project describes itself as ‘a unique collaboration of parents, professionals and community members who provide quality support, training, and programming that is accessible to all for children and adults with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, their families and those who work with them.’
I’ve always been interested in how to make play more accessible to children who might not find it so easy because of their disabilities. I wanted to check out what The Autism Project and Hasbro are doing together and how it’s helped to change perceptions and lives – or not!
What Is The ToyBox Tools?
Hasbro’s aim is to develop children’s learning through play but they understood that for some children with developmental and learning disabilities, playing in the conventional sense can be more challenging – as they put it,” play isn’t always accessible out of the box, relegating countless toys to the back of the closet or the donation bin!”
The Autism Project has been a partner of Hasbro’s Children’s Fund for a good few years now, and when the toys giant realised that teachers and therapists were using many of their classic toys to help disabled children to play and learn, they decided to investigate further. They found that professionals and parents were using the toys in their own ways to create their own ‘tools’ to unlock the world of play for children who would otherwise find it harder to experience it. So Hasbro and The Autism Project created their own set of ‘toybox tools’ to help parents, carers and professionals to play with their children. Brilliant!
The Tools Themselves
The Toybox Tools are a collection of online videos, resources and playmats and cards – all of which are free and available to watch or download from the section of Hasbro’s website dedicated to the project. All of the videos and cards connect to eight specific toys which have been approved for children with autism and developmental disabilities.
There are three levels for each toy idea, going from how the toy works, to enhanced play, right up to more challenging play within social situations and imaginative play (for example, playing with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head). Pretend play and role play is often harder for children with developmental disabilities, and I think it’s great that the project have suggested clear, instructional ways to do this.
Having had a look at the downloads myself, I can see how they’d be really helpful for children who might find certain aspects of play, for example, communication, difficult. An example of tools that could help are the ‘taking turns’ and ‘first and then’ cards. To some children, these concepts might seem simple to understand, but for children with autism and/or other learning disabilities, they might need to be reminded more often to take turns in a game, or what the rules are and what happens next. The cards provide visual cues as well as verbal reinforcement from the carer, which when combined, should make it easier to communicate and enjoy socialising and playing.
There are also visual timers and playmats to encourage children to play games, remember scenarios and to follow timekeeping rules. This is a brilliant idea and best of all, Hasbro and The Autism Project have made the resources appealing to the children that use them, using characters like Mr. Potato Head from Toy Story and Transformers! All too often when I was growing up, I found toys and resources for visually impaired/disabled children very similar and without the characters on them (my favourite was Ariel from The Little Mermaid). It’s super important to keep children engaged and interested in any play materials, and if using their favourite characters does it, then great. The only thing I’d say is there could be more characters to choose from, but maybe they’re working on that!
Does It Work?!
I think it sounds like a great initiative, but what do those who work with children with developmental disabilities think of how the scheme has progressed? The Autism Classes Resources website has given a review on the project, explaining both the good and bad points. They said that overall, the project was a good initiative for educators who were just starting out working with autistic children and children with learning disabilities, who are just starting out and learning to play with toys. The videos that accompany the resources they say are a ‘huge plus’ because of the time it takes to get children to interact and play, the fact that you can pause, rewind and replay the videos so that children can play at their own pace.
The only issue that they found was that they felt there were not enough toys included to be linked up with the resources, and that you have to buy those specific toys for the project to be relevant. This is a problem that I had thought of too (as I explained earlier, toys for children with disabilities often include popular characters, but not enough of them!) However the website is apparently working on adding more toys and I look forward to seeing where The Toybox Tools takes its world of play in the future!
Any thoughts? Have you tried the tools and found them useful?…or not?
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