Toys for a child with cerebral palsy

When you have a typical child, you get them toys, and you don’t really think about how much learning they do through play. You don’t realise that the blocks are teaching spatial awareness, that those annoying toys with 100 buttons are teaching cause-and-effect, and the shape sorter is teaching object permanence. But when your child can’t play with those toys, you notice.

I thought I’d do a little round-up of some toys that have worked well for C, whose arms and hands are fairly “involved.” At a year and a half, things like passing a toy from one hand to another, bringing her hands to midline, or even releasing something from her grasp are skills she has not yet mastered. All of these are my personal suggestions and there are no affiliate links.

1. Pen and paper:

I might not have thought to try this except that her sisters love drawing. With some assistance to get it in her hand, and a little coaxing, she got the idea of dragging it across paper and making a mark.  We bought giant crayons at a local art store, but turns out she prefers the regular markers.  We tape her paper down with painter’s tape to keep them in place. When summer comes and we can be outside, and the girls can hang out in their diapers and wash off in the kids pool, I’ll probably experiment with paints too. The idea of cleaning up that mess in winter is restraining me for the time being.

2. Magformers

Anything magnetic is great for C. These little tiles are fun because she can pull them apart and together and they sort of make things without too much effort. They also encourage her to bring her hands together as they make a satisfying sound when they clack together. The ones we have are called Magformers, but I’m also familiar with Magnatiles which are great toys too.


3. Fishing toys

There’s a magnet theme here. She can hold on to this rod, and with some assistance, get the satisfaction of “catching” a fish. We have a lovely Djeco brand one, which has a very pretty, and sturdy, box and is nice in its simplicity. But there are zillions of variations on this toy.

Fishing toy

4. Drums, xylophones and musical toys

Our occupational therapist brought a drum over once for C, and we immediately ran out and got one as it was one of the very first toys that got her moving her arm. It’s a bit awkward to place in front of her unless you are sitting with her, but smaller xylophones and musical toys can be left on her tray. Anything that makes a noise is hugely satisfying.
She also love little toy pianos with many keys.

5. Balls!

Balls have always been hugely motivating for C. She can rest on them, roll them, and lately even pick them up with two arms – a huge achievement for someone who finds two-handed play to be a challenge. I also have a stuffed square block which she can pick up and which rolls a bit, but not so much that it falls off her tray.

6. Books, books, books

Every child should have books, but especially a child with poor motor skills. She may not be able to access lots of toys, but you can reach the whole world through books. Board books are also sturdy and stay put, and the pages don’t require much coordination to bat open.

Some Finished Objects

I’ve been a little remiss in documenting some of my finished knitting, just in case it seems like I knit all the time without ever actually completing anything. (It does feel that way sometime!)

In no particular order, let’s start with Miss C in her Abate sweater. I made it in Rain City Knits Yarn, which is this fabulous neon coloured yarn. This particular one has been discontinued, though I still, happily, have another skein. The colour way, “Graffiti” (still available in other Rain City yarns, I think!) makes me think of candies and cupcakes. It was hard to get the colour right on that photo – the green tub and neon yarn seemed to confuse the white balance settings on my camera. I made this with B in mind, although they mostly share clothes. But B was not in a modelling mood.

C wearing her Abate sweater

Next up, an Owl I knit for P, as owls are a bit of theme at P’s school. There was also a Bunny for M, but the photo was blurry, so we’ll save that for another time. Both were made in Cascade 220 and used less than a skein. The patterns (free on Purl Soho’s site) were designed for bulky wool but they worked out nicely in a smaller weight. The Owl was made with leftovers from my Frosted Alpine Hat actually, which was yet to be properly photographed. Hopefully Miss M didn’t lose it before I could take a proper picture.


And last, but not least, Coda! I finished this sweater before Christmas and have been wearing it quite a lot. Brooklyn Tweed seems a bit scratchy when you work with it, but I find it very soft and wearable next to the skin. I love this colour (Camper) too.


Resolution broken already

Didn’t I just say I wouldn’t get caught up in a frenzy of last minute Christmas knitting?? Um, what happened?

First this hedgehog…


Then this owl. Just needs eyes.


Destined to be rejected in favour of store bought goods but some day they’ll thank me.


P absolutely loves “stuffies.” Coincidentally or not, it began when he weaned. Within a week, he had a new best friend – a stuffed horse who accompanied us everywhere for at least a couple of years. His name? Horsie of course.

About halfway through kindergarten, Horsie was no longer a constant companion. In fact, he’s often forgotten as P focusses his attention on Lego or other things. But stuffies still play a big part of our life. And in fact, they gained more sophisticated narratives. There is Chippy, the gregarious hippopotamus. There is Tiny Tim, the quiet turtle. They go on boat trips and adventures and live in a place called Stuffie Land. Until very recently, M didn’t play with them much (or at all) so P took many of hers over as well.

I don’t know if these handmade stuffies will be loved as much as the cheap ones accumulated from friends but I had so much fun making them. Since this photo I’ve adorned the bear with a large lime green felt bow tie just to give a bit more pizazz. I’ll be handing them over on Christmas Eve so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of more exciting toys in the morning, and so the (big) kids can sleep with them that night.


The Unloved Doll

Unloved by everyone but me that is. Even cut into my Denise Schmidt fabric to make her little dress and collar (only partly visible). But of course she’s thrown at the bottom of the toy basket, and when I try to make her fake cry, M just says “NO!” and reaches for the one with the rubber head that smells sickeningly of baby powder. And P, well, he has promised me out of pity that he will play with her some day in the future, like maybe in about 100 days or so.

She could use a little more stuffing, I suppose.

The Unloved Doll

I made her after seeing something similar in my February Martha Stewart mag. Aw man, now you’re going to click on that inspiration link and think of that “nailed it” meme.

Toy Sleeping Bag

I have worked every single day since I got back from my sewing workshop – that’s right, every one. So not much sewing being done. But thankfully there is going to be a reprieve now. I want to take a few days and just veg out, sew, relax, get stuff done around the house. I have so many projects I want to do, including curtains for the kids rooms, a cover for an ugly faux leather ottoman we have, and of course a spring wardrobe for the kids. I have been, occasionally, plugging away at my Christmas quilt in the hopes that it is done by next Christmas. Starting a Christmas quilt in November was a bit foolish, but next year seems realistic. I ordered some Insul-bright too, as I want to make new potholders.

Just remembered I made a really sweet doll recently too for M (who promptly threw it over in favour of a plastic one.) I keep telling myself she will appreciate it when she’s older. Like 34. But I can’t find it. So in the meantime, check this out.

I whipped this up tonight in about 45 minutes. (Hence the ugly machine binding… my redo that, although P will never notice that.) I saw a pattern for something similar on a blog; I couldn’t find it again, but it was easy enough to do without any pattern. Had to wrest “horse” away from a sleeping boy to accurately size the thing. I hope he will be excited to see his favourite toy all snuggled up in the morning. The lovely bird fabric is by my talented sister in-law at Forsythia Designs. I used spare quilting to emphasis the design. The lining is Denyse Schmidt – I think from her collection at Joann’s.

We’ve been reading Black Beauty, an abridged version someone gave us, so horses are even more popular than usual around here (and they are pretty darn popular already.) M even has a sign now for “horsie.” It’s not the “correct” ASL sign… but it’s so adorable that I’ve stopped trying to correct her. It involves her riding up and down like she’s on a pony. She still doesn’t talk much but she’s very conversant in signing now. She can tell me she’s hungry, she’s thirsty, she’s wondering where something is. She wants a book, a grape or “please down.” Teaching her the sign for cookie was a tactical error though.

Anyway enough rambling for tonight… must sleep.

Dinner Guests

We have guests for dinner tonight. Small wooden guests. Thomas, James, Percy and Toby… or as P likes to call him, “Tovy.” Four little wooden trains in a perfect line, surveying my son as he eats his dinner.

We’ve actually had these trains for years, except Tovy, who is a new acquisition. In fact, and don’t tell P this, we had five Thomases up until about six weeks ago, when I donated two of them to the Salvation Army in a toy purge. At the time he didn’t notice, but now he has them all catalogued.

What’s changed? Why have these humble little trains suddenly become such favourites that my son cannot sleep, eat or bathe without at least one of them by his side? Well, I’ll be honest: I let him watch the Thomas videos. And he was hooked. And suddenly he was rooting through that basket of trains, naming them, and listing which one he wants next.

Before Thomas, we had other dinner guests. First it was Lightning McQueen and pals. He saw the Cars movie at a friend’s house when he was being babysat. I had never paid much attention to Lightning McQueen before then, but suddenly he was everywhere: on sippy cups, bouncy balls, toy houses, fake computers, restaurant advertising. I’d walked through Toys’R’Us many times before, but after seeing Cars, it was no longer just a toy store. It was a toy store chockfull of Lightning McQueen merchandising. And my son has eagle eyes. No matter how high on a shelf, or how small the logo, he will see it. Once we were walking through a craft store and on a shelf about nineteen feet high there was a teeny-tiny Lightning birthday candle. “I want to see it! I just want to look at it!!” he yelled.

After Lightning, there was Buzz and Woody. I take full blame for this one – I (er, Santa) bought Woody and Buzz on sale at Canadian Tire and voluntarily showed my son the movie. It was nominated for an Oscar after all! Buzz and Woody didn’t just come to dinner, they even vacationed with us. On our trip to Mexico, Woody was everywhere – at the beach, at the ruins, in the hammock, cuddled under the hotel room. And his hat. P can be a little OCD about Woody’s hat, which unfortunately does not stay on particularly well. So I spent at least half our trip carefully tracking the movements of Woody’s hat – P fell asleep in my husband’s arms on our way back from dinner and my eyes were on that hat. Good thing too, because it fell off Woody’s head and landed under some brush on a tree, but I got it!

And so now, it’s Thomas. If I had known how expensive those trains were, I might not have showed him that video. One tiny piece of wood and plastic retails for $16 at your neighbourhood Chapters – which has an enormous display of them (along with several Cars characters and tie-in books). And no, they are not handmade in Switzerland by people making a living wage.

Part of me is grateful to Thomas and Lightning and Woody, and even Woody’s hat. They have given me many hours of free time as my son happily re-enacted scenes from the movies, or made up his own. And of course the shows buy me a half hour here and there too. But another part of me feels sad about it. I’ve made P three handmade toys. But there’s no show about those toys. There’s no multimillion dollar advertising campaign, no birthday candles, no outdoor baseball set or push-toys that tie in with them. They get played with for an hour, and then set aside.

I’m a perfect Waldorf or Montessori parent who avoids all plastic and mass-produced things. But once you open the floodgates to Woody or Lightning or Thomas, your child is inundated. He will find the Thomas ball at the thrift store, and the Lightning stickers at the dollar store, and the Toy Story book in the doctor’s waiting office. And then the doctor will see how much he loves that book and give it to him, so you’ll be forced to read it ad nauseum. And then he’ll cry at dinner because he desperately wants Annie and Clarabelle, who are “Thomas’s two very good friends!” And you’ll always have guests for dinner.

Tag Along Dolls

A couple of months ago I stumbled upon Hillary Lang’s Wee Wonderfuls at a discount bookstore nearby. Flipping through it there were so many cute little projects inside. I think it was actually this book that got me ambitious about sewing again.  If you’re at all interested in making dolls or stuffed animals, I do recommend it, as there are lots of cute projects, and, better yet, you learn a variety of techniques which you can then use to make your own creations.

I made one “Tag-Along” doll for my niece’s 5th birthday, and then made an extra one for M, because P appropriates all her other toys. Although of course, P appropriated this one too… hm.  It’s called the Tag-Along doll because there’s also a pattern for an apron to hold the doll, however I didn’t bother with that, so I guess it’s just a Hangin’ Out doll.

This is the third project from the book I’ve tried, and by far the most successful, probably because I am really learning not to rush my sewing. It’s always kind of a thrill when the finished product looks like the photo – at least I think it does, doesn’t it?

These little girls did take me a LONG time though, considering how simple they are. Stuffing and working on all the little details is just time-consuming. It’s fun when it’s a labour of love – I am hoping my niece appreciates this doll, if not now, then someday. But it’s also why I will never open an Etsy doll shop… to pay myself a living wage I estimate I’d have to sell these dolls for approximately $427 each. Still, it’s not always about the destination – it’s also about the journey!

Fabric is from Moda’s It’s a Hoot collection.

Car Mat/Play house

Remember how last week I talked about maybe doing some sewing for P, and pointed out this car house (which I discovered via Made By Rae)?

About five minutes after writing that post, I became obsessed. Or maybe I just made the mistake of mentioning it to P who then hounded me about it. For the next two days I was hard at work cutting out little felt pieces and making this adorable play house/play mat. P is a bit of a hoarder and loves to put all his toys in a bag or container and carry them around, so I knew this would be a hit. And as a carrying case it sure beats a garbage bag. We learned that the hard way when P was re-enacting the opening part of Toy Story 3 and put all his toys in a black garbage bag, which we then accidentally left at the park. The toys were recovered but not before a lot of angst (his) and tears (mine).

The house-bag serves a dual purpose as it then unfolds into this cute playmat. (Cars aficionados will recognise Cosy Cone #1 and #2 – placed there by special request. Yes, Pixar has taken over our life and I’m not even ashamed of it.)

I varied the pattern a little bit. I didn’t make it from felt – I made it from cotton with a piece of batting in between. So it’s definitely floppier than the original, but I like that look. I also didn’t add the extra pieces of fabric to make the mat square, as I had a feeling P would get frustrated trying to fold that all back together.

Can I just pause for a moment to say I am so proud of myself? It’s amazing how two months ago I struggled to make us Christmas stockings, and now just two months later I can pull this off! It was also my first attempt at machine applique-ing and though the results were a little uneven (I touched a few up by hand after this photo), by the end I was really getting the hang of it. That’s the great thing about sewing toys – your kid isn’t going to critique your stitches, and fit doesn’t matter so imperfections are not fatal to overall use. And P said “I LOVE it!” and insisted on taking it out with us, so I know it was a hit.