You already know that your Down syndrome toddler has special needs that present extra challenges for everyone. But when you use learning activities for toddlers with Down syndrome, you’re not only bonding, you’re teaching at the same time. Entertaining and educational activities let you have fun and relax together with your little one.
Toys and playthings don’t have to be fancy or expensive for your toddler. Take a good look at many of the items you probably already have to find suitable materials for learning activities. Plastic kitchen containers with lids, nesting cups, wood blocks, balls of all sizes, simple puzzles, board books and musical toys such as a xylophone, child’s drum or a tambourine would be items that your little one would find entertaining. Sit with your toddler to show her how toys work and to give ideas for play. Fitting the nesting cups inside each other, taking lids on and off the containers and stacking blocks can be especially helpful for a Down syndrome child, according to the Psychological Corporation.
Anything that involves the senses can be important activities for tots with Down syndrome, according to the Sensory Processing website. Some kids with Down syndrome have a sensory processing disorder that makes it hard to feel and process sensory stimulation. If your little one has issues with sensory processing, sensory play will be an important activity to help him learn about his body and movements. Try something as simple as placing your toddler lying down on a blanket and pulling him around on a smooth floor. Keep the movements smooth and gentle so you don’t startle or scare him. This activity can help your tot get comfortable with movement.
Another idea: Fill a medium-sized box about half full with small stuffed animals. Set your toddler in the box on the stuffed animals and then add some more on his lap to cover his legs. Many little kids love the sensory feelings of this game.
Don’t forget to use other sensory-play materials such as modeling compound, finger paints, sand and water — with supervision to avoid any eating, of course.
Fine Motor Skills
Look for activities that will help your toddler develop fine motor skills. Although it will take time and effort to develop dexterity, the more she practices, the better she’ll become at grasping objects and manipulating them. Offer her a small item such as a crayon or a little toy and encourage her to reach for it and grasp it. Once she’s got it, ask her to give it back to you — she’ll have to learn to release the object and let it go. Try holding the object in front of her above her head, to her left and to her right to practice eye-hand coordination. Once your tot gains some grasping proficiency, give her the opportunity to scribble on paper with crayons, too.
Gross Motor Skills
Learning activities wouldn’t be complete without some focus on gross motor skills, which are activities that engage your child’s larger muscles. Because kids with Down syndrome have lax muscle tone and increased flexibility, according to the Down Syndrome Education website, they usually need some sort of physical therapy to get stronger and more coordinated. In conjunction with whatever physical therapy your little one receives, consider spending time in a pool with him. According to the Child’s Play Physiotherapy website, water can be the perfect spot for a tot with Down syndrome to gain strength in the trunk and limbs. What’s more, the water can be ideal for kids with sensory processing issues because it increases body awareness. Hold your tot, encourage splashing, kicking and moving his arms and legs in the water.