Cerebral Palsy 9 - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities

C e r e b ra l Pa l s y
9 - P l a y, To y s a n d L e i s u r e A c t i v i t i e s
informative leaflet intended to families of
Children and Teens Program
© Centre de réadaptation Estrie, 2008
Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Section 1 - T h e s t i m u l a t i o n o f p l a y f o r a c h i l d
with cerebral palsy1
Some children with cerebral palsy have a limited ability to explore
and discover their environment. This has an impact on the games
they play and their development, in turn affecting their ability to
learn. Through play, your child lays the foundation on which other
skills will develop. Each child is unique, with his or her own
strengths and difficulties. That’s why it is important to stimulate
her, to help and encourage her so as to maximize her abilities and
reduce the impact of her limitations. Like a game, a child develops
in stages, at his own unique speed.
How should I play with my child?
The choice of toys, the child’s position and how you help will all be
important in helping your child to play. Play should not be something
planned, a “work session”. Rather than putting play on a schedule,
make it a normal part of daily activities. For example, give your child
tasks that she is capable of doing alongside you in your own work. Have
your child take part in dusting, preparing meals (mixing a cake, making
cookies with cookie-cutters), etc.
To encourage participation, give your child two choices and set aside
the one not chosen. If he loses concentration, don’t insist. This way
you will keep him interested and he will want to continue trying.
Encourage your child to explore by handling objects slowly and repeatedly. Take her hand or put your hand on hers and help her discover the
objects she is holding. Play along with her, then take turns.
Make sure you don’t help too much. Sometimes, helping your child to
overcome difficulties can lead to being overly directive, suggesting for
example that she place the little block on the big one, turn the lid instead of pulling on it. Don’t be afraid to let her solve problems by herself. Quite soon enough, she will ask for help when she needs it. Try to
understand what your child is trying to do, and only help when she is
genuinely in difficulty. Do things with her instead of for her.
1- This section of the Booklet is based on the book Le modèle ludique written by Francine
Ferland (1994). See the bibliography at the end p. 11
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Wo u l d y o u l i k e t o p l a y …
Your child needs to play, it’s his main occupation! Playing is how your
child experiences pleasure, discovery, mastery, creativity and selfexpression (Ferland, 2003). Through play, your child will learn,
explore, experiment, imitate, exercise. He will develop his motor
skills, his senses and perception, his ability to communicate and his
social, intellectual and emotional skills.
Motor skills
Place your child in the right position so he can look at the toys, touch
them with his hands and bring them to his mouth. Have him take
objects of different shapes and drop them into a container. Change
the position of play regularly so he can explore different ways of
moving. Place the toy where he can reach it. Encourage him to be
active and to move in every position he can maintain. (See Booklet 3
– Basic Principles, and Booklet 4 – Motor Skills and Movement.)
Senses and perception
We all know the senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch.
Through them, your child perceives sensations from the world
around him, observing its features of colour, shape, size and so on.
As well, when your child moves there are other senses that give him
additional information, perceptions about the movements of his
body and the position of his body in space.
It may be that your child enjoys stimulation and uses it to learn.
Alternately, he may find sensory information hard to take, or misinterpret it. In the latter case, sensations may not be enough to alert
him and get his attention (for ex.: doesn’t cry when he hurts himself, stuffs his mouth when eating); or sensations may be felt too
intensely (for ex.: sensitivity to clothes touching his body, to noise
or certain smells, lumps in a purée, motion in a car). In these situations, pay attention to his reactions.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Some examples of activities to stimulate the senses
Present objects for your child to look at, and encourage her to take
her time looking at them. Set up a mobile over her bed.
Slowly move a stimulating object in front of her face. Move it from
left to right, up and down, to encourage her to follow it with her
Change the intensity of the lighting.
Change the position of her bed relative to the window in her room.
Use contrasting colours (black/white). Present objects against a
contrasting background so they will be more visible.
Use fluorescent colours.
Choose colourful toys.
Limit the number of toys if they seem to be distracting her.
Limit the sources of noise in the room.
Make sure you have your child’s attention when you speak to him.
Speak slowly and simply. Your tone of voice, your gestures and
expressions are all perceived by your child.
Dance to different types of music.
Imitate animal sounds.
Change your tone of voice: talk like a robot, a mouse, a lion...
Sing songs and nursery rhymes.
Make up a new nursery rhyme to a
familiar tune, using a handful of
simple, familiar words. Add a few
gestures to go with your song.
Repeat it often. If you always sing
the same song at bath time, your
child will expect it and respond.
Whenever you can, have your child
taste different foods. This way she
will be more open to new things.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
8 At
meal times, have your child smell the different foods.
8 Look for toys that have a scent, like balls and pens.
8 Lightly spray her favourite teddy bear with perfume.
Rock your child.
Put him in a swing (models
with a high seat back provide
better support).
Dance with your child in your
arms to various types of
Vary temperatures and textures: hot and cold, rough
and soft, wet and dry, etc.
Have your child play in
water, in sand; touch different fabrics, different foods
(whipped cream, cookie
dough), etc.
Give your child massages.
If your child doesn’t seem to
enjoy being touched, start
with a less sensitive part of
the body, such as the back,
arms or legs. Firm pressure
may be tolerated more
easily than light caressing.
Bodily perception
Do activities in a swimming
o Engage in horseplay.
o Take your child’s hands or feet
and tap them together.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Communication and sociability
Play helps your child learn that there are things he can communicate
and people he can communicate with. Play can be practised alone or
with others, both children and adults. The skills required for life in
society (sharing, listening, working together, etc.) can all be developed by simply playing. Play will also help him to develop language and
vocabulary (see Booklet 5 - Communication).
Intellectual skills
Your child learns, understands her environment and develops her ability to think and use language, all by having fun. When she experiments and tries things out, she acquires knowledge that helps hr
solve problems, pay attention, make connections and develop her
Some examples of games to play with your child:
8 Hide your face and ask her to find you; hide an object under a
blanket and ask her find to it.
8 Offer hr toys that have wheels to turn, buttons to push (a toy
that does something or an activity centre).
8 Encourage her to:
 pull a string to start a music box playing;
 strike an object such as a xylophone;
 roll a toy with wheels;
 kick a ball or hit it with her hands;
 pull a toy car on a string;
 look at picture books;
 imitate the sounds of things and animal calls;
 empty and fill containers;
 stack up blocks, put one on top, on the bottom, on the side;
 associate shapes and images;
 copy drawings and build things with blocks.
Emotional skills
Play is an opportunity to initiate actions, express feelings (joy, sorrow,
anger, etc.) and develop self-esteem.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Section 2 – What toys to choose and how to
adapt them
Many toys on the market may be perfect for your child’s needs. Your
choice should be based on what she herself enjoys and her physical and
intellectual abilities. A game that is too difficult will be frustrating,
while a game that is too easy will be quickly rejected.
Pay attention to the size of toys. Which one is easier to handle depends
on the skills of your unique child: sometimes it’s a larger toy, sometimes a smaller one.
Toys can be borrowed from certain libraries, so your child can try them
out before you buy.
Toys that are on the market can be adapted by you so they suit your
child’s needs even better.
Some suggestions for toys
Every child loves balls! Their size, texture, colour and weight can all
play into what you choose. Keep in mind that a foam ball is easier to
handle and doesn’t hurt. Large beach balls can be great for children
who are weaker on one side than the other, since the size of the ball
encourages them to use both hands. The same skills can also be stimulated with a hanging ball, small balls or a bean bag.
Large wood blocks can be used for building things or to play pairing
games. Adding Velcro can make stacking them easier.
Music is stimulating, especially when it’s his own! A bottle filled with
dried beans, or a bracelet of bells on his wrist or ankle become fun
musical instruments.
Choose puzzles with peg tops on the pieces, which are easier to
pick up.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Some suggestions for adapting toysSome suggestions
for adapting toys
page 28
Velcro and suction cups are a great way to make certain toys more
If a toy has to be wound up, you can make the handle bigger to
make it easier to turn.
Handles can be enlarged by wrapping them in terry cloth. This
makes it easier for your child to grip the toy.
Magnetic toys can also make certain activities easier. Look for them
in stores, or adapt toys you already have by applying pieces of selfadhesive magnetic tape.
Place a non-slip mat underneath the toy.
If toys keep falling on the floor, hang them where your child can
reach them or sew them to a
A toy that is hard to hold or too
small can be attached to a
stick. If it is too light or tips too
easily, it can be glued or screwed onto a larger base.
Use elastic bands or bands of
stretch terry to help your child
retain things in his hand. For
example, after placing the
band around his hand, slip the
object through so that it is held
in his palm, as shown in the
Many toys on the market are
designed to be easy to pick up
and use, such as finger crayons
for drawing and T-ball stands
for playing baseball. Some
companies sell toys that are
already adapted.
Computers and other electronic toys can encourage learning.
A swing with a high seat back can support your child when sitting.
For a child in a wheelchair, a raised sandbox can be easier to get
Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
From ordinary stuff to extraordinary games
Remember that Christmas when a child got a great big present, but
spent all her time playing with... the box! We often forget that children can amuse themselves with next to nothing. In every home, there
are many objects with which a child can happily play and learn. Some
of the most fun ones are in a place that is wonderful to explore: the
kitchen cupboards!
A simple plastic container with a cover can be something extraordinary for your child. Roll the container toward your child so she follows it with her eyes, then have her push it back to you. To make it
more interesting, put some dried beans in the container. The gentle
sounds will get her attention even more. Another idea is to use
empty plastic bottles for bowling.
8 Spoons and pots and pans are terrific fun for picking up, making
noise and pretending.
8 Playing in pudding is an exciting sensation for little ones.
8 A simple sheet of paper, rolled into a ball with something hidden
inside, can be very intriguing.
A home offers all sorts of learning activities for the everyday responsibilities of life. Such activities can also give a child a little more independence. For example, a child can have fun by:
organizing the family’s shoes and socks in pairs and by colour;
picking up and putting away her toys;
carrying an object from one place to another;
wiping up little spills;
brushing off a corner of the table.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
Section 3 - L e i s u r e a c t i v i t i e s a s a f a m i l y a n d
with friends
Personal and family obligations take up a good part of your time with
your child. To maintain balance in your lives, it is important to devote
some of your time to leisure activities, be they cultural, sports, tourism or nature outings. In doing so you will meet your child’s needs for
relaxation, rest and entertainment. It is also an opportunity to stimulate your child’s development, meet people and other children, and
encourage him to participate in society.
Some suggestions for leisure activities
Practise activities as a family. Many activities can be adapted so
your child can do them too, or at least be with you (for example,
add a child seat or a trailer to your bicycle).
Play outside: in the grass, in the sand, in the snow (hiding, rolling
in it, sliding), etc.
Take your child for a ride in a
wagon or a sleigh.
Many municipal parks have
outdoor play modules; join
your child in the fun.
Find out what’s offered at
your local community and
recreation centres (crafts,
toddler activities, swimming
(free swimming or swimming
Be on the lookout for upcoming cultural events and
family outings in your neighbourhood.
Use Booklet 14 – Resources, to find organizations that offer activities suitable for children.
Think of leisure activities as a way to enjoy being with your child while
at the same giving her positive experiences that will help her gain
confidence and develop self-esteem.
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Cerebral Palsy - Play, Toys and Leisure Activities
FERLAND Francine, (1994), Le modèle ludique. Le jeu, l’enfant avec déficience physique et l’ergothérapie, Montréal, Les presses de l’Université de
Montréal, 114 p.
BEAULIEU Julie et Line CHARRON (2004, J’apprends en jouant : le développement du jeune de 0-2 ans, Québec, IRDPQ, 35 p. (lecture notes)
Pe r s o n a l N o t e s
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