Top tips for choosing toys for children with visual impairments

A favourite homemade toy

Sidewalk chalk

Super Sorting Pie

Casedon Supermarket Till

Recommendations by Lisa Jefferies

Choosing toys for any child, whether or not they have a visual impairment, can be a challenge. Often unexpected items prove popular and those we thought that they would love are completely ignored. Our son is completely blind in one eye and has a large macular scar in his other, impacting his central vision. His vision is 6/48. These tips and recommendations are based on what we have learnt with him.

1. Try as many toys as possible, but don’t be afraid to throw away

Previously, we made the mistake of buying quite expensive toys that sat unused but we didn’t throw them away because of their cost. Now we buy toys second hand at a fraction of the price- if they aren’t popular, they go to the local charity shop and no one minds. Top places for bargains include:

  • eBay – especially good for bulk buying Lego/Duplo
  • Gumtree
  • Charity shops
  • School/Church Fairs

Lots of areas also have toy libraries where you can borrow toys for a nominal fee. This is a great way to try different things without cluttering the house.

2. Don’t be afraid to buy toys for younger children

A lot of our son’s favourite toys are aimed at slightly younger children, but he likes them as they tend to be bigger and less fiddly, e.g. he prefers Duplo to Lego. When we try to get age appropriate toys that might help his development (e.g. puzzles), they just get ignored.

3. Avoid toys with too much detail

It feels like common sense when I write it down, but avoid choosing toys with too much detail or fiddly parts as there’s little enjoyment in what can’t be seen.

4. Sort toys so they are easy to select based on mood

One of the best things we have done is box all the toys so that each box relates to a different kind of play –a box of Duplo, one of puzzles, another of musical instruments etc that are always in the same place. This means the boys can easily find what they are in the mood for, taking the pressure off their vision. We have gone for the IKEA Trofast range as it was relatively cheap and the boxes are light so even when filled with toys our boys can carry them.

5. Homemade toys are always winners

Out of everything, I would say it’s the toys we’ve made ourselves that he’s enjoyed the most. Partly this is because of the effort invested by him in making them, but also because they usually come straight out of his imagination. Most of ours are made from cardboard boxes. The great thing is that making of them is as much fun as the resultant toy. It also doesn’t matter when it’s time to throw them away.

We usually base it on whatever he’s into at the time and then I use Google (the cooler amongst you might use Pinterest!) to get ideas.

This photo shows one of his all-time favourite homemade toys. It was a great project as it was large and simple, so he could join in and get good results.

6. Imaginary play

Games and toys that involve imagination and simulating real world activities are a big hit with our boys. Every day they pretend to cook dinner, be a builder, put out fires etc. There are so many things to support this play even just using household items; laundry baskets become boats, chairs are train carriages, etc. One of our favourite charity shop finds was a tea party set which they loved.

The great thing is that it is not very dependent on vision. Our son can see the snapping sharks swimming round our feet just as well as we can!

7. Develop themes

We find that planning play around a specific theme is a great way of keeping attention and interest going. For example, we recently listened to the audio book of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on a long journey. Our son loved it, so we then watched the film (thank you Amazon Prime!) and have been playing games such as having our own chocolate shop, inventing sweets, etc. We’re now planning a trip to Cadbury’s World so he can see inside a real chocolate factory!

8. Treasure Hunts

Making our own treasure hunts is great but our first treasure hunt was a bit of a worry. We’d been invited to an Easter Egg Hunt and the organiser called to ask what adjustments we needed. It was one of the first times we were shown that our son couldn’t do what was easy for others. As well as some adjustments (e.g. slightly bigger eggs, a colour that was specific to him so not collected by the other kids etc.), we prepared by doing practice hunts and he loved them!

We’ve successfully tried lots of different formats. One involved leaving picture clues all around the house. We’ve also hidden chocolate in various places for him to find and created treasure maps that we’ve helped him ‘read’ to locate the treasure. This inspired him to draw his own maps which was great for his drawing skills as it’s usually an activity he shies away from. We also had a hunt where he had a list of items he had to find and photograph. We used this camera which he really enjoys. It has survived a lot of rather hard knocks and still works well.

Specific toy recommendations

These can all be bought through Amazon Smile. It doesn’t cost you any extra, but Amazon will donate to your chosen charity. MACS is registered, so we can receive a donation for every purchase made!

Crayola ‘sidewalk’ chalks

These are the best we’ve tried. They are particularly good for VI kids as they have a range of bright colours that show up well on the patio. Marks with other chalks have been harder to see. They are quite chunky so easy to hold and less likely to break than smaller chalks. That said, our children have still managed to break them, but they also destroyed a stairgate within two weeks (amongst other things) so I’m not sure I can hold it against the chalks!

£8.95 with Amazon Prime

Learning Resources Super Sorting Pie

This was a surprise favourite with our son. I bought it as I thought it would be a good ‘educational toy’ given his vision, to help with sensory development in his fingers (early preparation for Braille) as well as fine motor skill and concentration. I thought he would only use it with a lot of persuasion, but I was very wrong. He loves playing with it and there was a stage where he asked for it every day. For each colour, there are two fruits which can make some of the sorting more challenging. For example, the hardest is the orange colour which has an orange and a peach as the two fruits – both about the same size, but the orange one is textured. It’s a great way to get him to use his sense of touch to distinguish between objects as the detail was too small for him to rely on his vision. Unfortunately, the game has had to be put away as his little brother kept putting the pieces in his mouth and it is a choking hazard for smaller children so I would not advise for those under 36 months or those who put everything in their mouth.

£18.25 with Amazon Prime

Casedon Supermarket Till

Both our boys have had hours of fun playing with this. I think it’s good for VI children as the buttons on the till are quite large so easy to read and it also makes some great, realistic sounds. It is a real calculator with add and subtract buttons that actually work, so it can help children with basic maths in a fun way too. However, the feature that we enjoy most (even mum and dad) is the microphone which distorts your voice so it sounds like a real shop tannoy! Again, it’s well thought out for a child with limited vision as the microphone button is a different colour from the other buttons and so easy to locate. The only downside is that you have to practically put the microphone in your mouth for it to work.

£14.49 with Amazon Prime


Saying goodbye to MACS Dad, Mel Gordon (1956-2018)

Mel running the Virgin Money London Marathon 2013

On Sunday, 3rd June 2018 the MACS family lost a much-loved dad, Mel Gordon. Mel joined MACS in 2008 with his wife Teresa after the birth of their daughter, Kara, who was born with unilateral microphthalmia. Very quickly Mel and Teresa – along with their two older sons, Scott and Cole – became an integral part of the MACS family, reciprocating the support they received at the start of their MACS journey to other new MACS families when they needed it most. MACS was a lifeline to Mel and Teresa during Kara’s early childhood and they were both only too happy to support others when they joined. It’s safe to say, Mel was loved by hundreds of MACS parents, nationwide.

In 2010 Mel decided to take on his greatest challenge to-date, he decided he would complete the London Marathon for MACS. Little did Teresa know that this would be the start of something special for Mel. Not only did Mel go on to complete the London Marathon three times, he also completed the Chicago marathon twice, along with the New York and Berlin marathons – all seven marathons for MACS, raising tens of thousands of pounds along the way. As well as his marathon running, Mel founded two park runs in his local area and completed nineteen half marathons. Mel was a running fanatic, lucky enough to have found a hobby he loved so much.

As we say our fond and emotional farewells to Mel, I’m humbled to announce the launch of Mel’s MACS Marathon Place, in memory of the man himself. This annual place (which will run as long as MACS has golden bond London Marathon places) will be awarded to a MACS parent or adult, or to one of Mel’s children, annually to complete the London Marathon on behalf of MACS in Mel’s memory. More information on how to apply for this place will be announced in due course, but the first Mel’s Place runner will run in the 2019 Virgin Money London Marathon. We couldn’t think of a better way to remember Mel, and we hope that you will all join us in supporting the first runner to run in Mel’s memory.

On behalf of all the MACS Trustees and members, it leaves me with only one thing to say. Mel Gordon, may you continue running through our hearts and minds forevermore. Rest In Peace, my friend, and know that Teresa, Scott, Cole, and Kara will be loved by the MACS family whenever they need it most.

Sleep well.

Remembering Mel Gordon

Earlier this year we announced that we’d be launching Mel’s Place to remember Mel Gordon, a much loved MACS dad who left us far too young. Mel’s Place will be given to one of Mel’s family, or to a MACS parent, annually to run the London Marathon for MACS in memory of Mel. After consultation with Mel’s wife and MACS mum, Teresa, we’re pleased to announce that the first Mel’s Place runner will be MACS dad, Tim Lupton.

Teresa has this to say: “Firstly, thank you to everyone who has enquired about Mel's Marathon place.

“Next year being the first year, we wanted one of the family to run the London Marathon in Mel's honour. I was going to take up the challenge but due to health and wellbeing issues, this wasn’t possible. We have, instead, chosen to give it to someone who we consider family - Tim Lupton, MACS' very own marathon man.  He has graciously accepted.

“We have chosen Tim because Mel and Tim ran many times together actively encouraging each other especially, in the early days of Mel's running. We have been to several Park Run and other running events with the Luptons and in fact Jenny would quite often know more about Mel's running schedule than me! Tim is the perfect choice to run as the first Mel’s Place runner and we’re humbled that he’s accepted.

“To those who inquired, thank you. Keep running, cycling or challenging yourself to something new, and if you choose to do this in memory of Mel, his legacy will be enormous. Mel - a much loved Husband, Father and Friend to many of you - would be speechless.”

We can’t wait to cheer Tim on during the London Marathon next year and we hope to see as many of you there as possible to cheer on MACS and to remember Mel.