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  • Writer's pictureEmily

Learning Through Play

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

These are a few of Madelynn's favorite things!

When we first found out that Madelynn is blind, all that we knew for sure that she could see were lights. The importance of stimulating her occipital lobe was explained to us very early on. If it never developed, no matter what we did to help the anatomy of her eyes, she would not be able to see. So we immediately found every light up toy that we could find. We had such a great support system that was looking for ways to help so we finally asked - we needed all of the toys that we could get to stimulate Madelynn’s brain & optimize whatever vision she had! & Boy did they show up for us! We were blessed with more than we could've imagined.

Below is a list of toys, lights & no lights, that we’ve found to be helpful this far in our journey. Many of them we've continued to use from infancy into the toddler years. I've included pictures & videos for as many toys as possible to provide a realistic look at the toy in use. We hope you will find these toys helpful in your journey or to be great gifts to give the special blind/VI kiddo in your life!

Light Up Toys:

1. Baby Einstein Sensory Play Space Newborn-to-Toddler Discovery Gym and Play Mat This play mat is fabulous! It has so many tactile features & the arches light up for your baby's very own light show. We loved to turn all the lights off and let Madelynn lay and watch the lights. We hung rattles, bells, & other tactile toys from the arches. It also helped us start to gauge the depth of her vision when she started reaching for the toys that were hanging.

2. Baby Einstein Sea Dreams Soother Musical Crib Toy and Sound Machine I think my favorite part of this toy is that there's a remote that comes with it so you can restart it remotely while baby is trying to fall asleep. It gave Madelynn something bright to stare at when she wasn't trying to fall asleep. When she was trying to fall asleep we actually hid it underneath her crib so that she got used to the music meaning it was time to sleep.

3. LeapFrog Scout's 3-in-1 Get Up and Go Walker As Madelynn was starting to pull up/walk, we used this less as a walker and more as something for her to pull up on & play with by locking the wheels. We turned the lights/buttons to the ceiling (like a table) so that she could get as close to the lights as possible without having to worry that it would roll backwards. This toy was also great for working on hand/eye coordination and building strength in her fingers when pressing the buttons.

A bright white light box with black letters in print that read "Kaylee & Madelynn"

4. Large Light Box with 109 Letters and Characters Madelynn loved looking at this bright light in this box as a baby & we are looking forward to also using it to teach her letters in print.

5. Bright Starts Light & Learn Drum with Melodies This toy scares Madelynn a little bit, I think due to her troubles with depth perception, but she loves to play with it as long as she can sit on mommy or daddy's lap & watch/tap it where she feels safe. She loves the songs & watching the lights.

Infant girl wearing LSU bubble plays with monkey toy that rolls. The wheels are lit up green.

6. Bright Starts Roll & Glow Monkey Crawling Baby Toy with Lights and Sounds Madelynn loved this from very early on & it helped get her moving! As the monkey rolled, she would try to go get it. She would use her mouth/teeth to press the button to make it go once she learned & remembered where the button was. We were able to use this toy to help teach her how to press with her fingers & build strength in her fingers so that she could press the button independently.

7. Spray Water Toy & Space UFO Car Toys with LED Light Musical This toy can be used either in the bath or put on it's dock to move around on solid flooring. It is loud and bright and Madelynn loves watching it go! This toy is also great for getting a baby moving! And provides great entertainment for dogs, if you have any!

Infant girl lays on floor smiling and looking at camera. She's laying next to a toy with a bright circle in the middle.

8. Fisher-Price Bright Beats Dance & Move Beat Bowwow Bowwow was one of the very first toys that Madelynn started to memorize & mimic what he said. She loved to get right up close to the lights in the circle. She had a hard time finding the buttons on this toy, she was convinced the light circle was the button, but one she memorized where they were she loved to press & watch Bowwow sing & dance!

9. Light up Musical Twinkle Star Lullaby Stuffed Toy We loved to hang this one from various places - her bouncer, her crib, etc - & she would sit & watch the colors change!

Infant girl hold stuffed pink elephant that is lit up

10. Light Up Pink Elephant Toy This was actually one of the very first toys that helped us confirm that Madelynn could, in fact, see lights. This toy doesn't play songs or anything but the bright colors are great for a child with some vision to watch!

11. Light Up Magic Ball Toy Wand This was the very first toy that Madelynn tracked with her eyes! She LOVES this toy, she could just sit and watch it for hours (or however long toddlers can sit still LOL). This is a toy that we would hang from the arches listed in #1 above for her to lay back & watch. We used it to get her to roll over & practice tracking.

12. Fisher-Price Linkimals Counting Koala, Fisher-Price Linkimals Musical Moose, Fisher-Price Linkimals Smooth Moves Sloth, Fisher-Price Linkimals Lights & Colors Llama, Fisher-Price Linkimals Play Together Panda There are so many more of these toys but these are Madelynn's top picks! She's particularly drawn to the sloth. Ever since she learned where the buttons are, she's loved to watch him dance & sing. When all of the toys get going she goes from toy to toy watching them light up.

13. Baby Einstein Glow & Discover Light Bar Activity Station So many great things to say about this toy. We used it to teach Madelynn to press & she learned to roll the ball in the middle to make the songs go. You can see in the first video that she wanted to press with her mouth - a habit we were trying to break.

The second video shows how when she got old enough to start to identify colors, this toy also helped teach her colors. She still loves to play with this toy as a two year old!

14. Baby Einstein™ 2-in-1 Laugh & Lights Activity Gym & Saucer Madelynn continues to love this toy even as a toddler. She didn't spend much time in the saucer but did like to lay on the mat and watch the lights as an infant & as a toddler she loves to work her way around the various toys along the circle & say 'on' until we turn the lights & music on for her. She'll put her eye right up to the lights. This has also been great for teaching colors - she knows the colors of the lights in the arch.

15. Bright Starts™ Safari Beats Musical Toy This was one of the first toys Madelynn was able to figure out how to use herself since the lights are the "buttons." We would set this on her Spoon walker along with Bowwow to explore all of the toys.

16. Fisher-Price Kick 'n Play Musical Bouncer with Removable Toy Bar This was a great, safe place to put Madelynn down & it kept her entertained. The only thing I wish was that the light bar hung more directly over her head so that she could've seen it closer.

17. Light up Puffer Balls These offer such great sensory experiences from the lights to the texture to the spikes. Once Madelynn got comfortable with them she figured out how to make them light up by throwing them/tapping them hard.

18. Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Light-up Learning Vacuum Madelynn didn't start to like this toy until she could walk well. She started playing with it by just turning it on and watching the lights. After figuring out that she couldn't put her face to the lights and push the vacuum at the same time, she learned to love this toy. It's one that we take with us any time we travel. She older she gets, the more she knows how to use it properly.

19. Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Puppy This puppy taught Madelynn so much! From nursery rhymes to the alphabet to colors of the lights in the heart. I'm shocked that I don't have a great video of this toy - it is one of her absolute favorites.

20. Vtech Touch & Learn Musical Bee

The video shows Madelynn searching for a small button with her fingers. This was a huge thing for her to learn. She'd previously tried to press every button with her mouth so this was the start of her pressing buttons the correct way! She still loves this toy & the songs that it plays.

21. Fisher Price Kick n Play Piano This toy was gifted to us prior to Madelynn being born so we didn't know how important lights would be to her. Similar to the Baby Einstein Light Bar toy, this was one of the first toys we taught Madelynn to press buttons correctly & eventually helped teach her colors. She really loved the songs that this toy sings and started to memorize them early on!

Infant girl in carseat holds teething toy in one hand and a rattle in the other that's lit up green

22. Smartnoggin Rattle One of the very first light up toys that Madelynn was given. She loved this toy for a long time. Not only was the bar great for teething but she loved the light & the sound of the rattle. She also loved the mirror on the end - one of the first things we realized Madelynn could see, other than lights, was actually mirrors. This toy hit everything she loved!

23. Lamaze Light Up Toy So many crinkly, sensory elements to this toy! The light changes to match the color of the petal being touched. We brought this on car trips to Texas to see Madelynn's retinal specialist & it was especially awesome during the early mornings before the sun came up when Madelynn could really see the colors.

24. Light Up Jump Rope This is a great little carseat hack! We hardly hung toys from Madelynn's car seat because we knew she wouldn't be able to see them. This ended up being a perfect & cheap way to keep her entertained on those road trips to Texas.

25. Light Up Jumping Ball This ball can be really over stimulating but Madelynn loved to crawl to try to catch it and once she felt more comfortable with it, she liked to hold it in her hands or to her mouth and feel the vibration.

Sensory Toys:

1. Sensory Mat Module Set This was great for teaching Madelynn about different textures (spikey, bumpy, etc.) and for getting her comfortable touching different textures. She also struggled with walking on different surfaces so we were able to use these squares to help with that.

2. Playskool Sit ‘n Spin Madelynn started to develop 'blindisms' like spinning in circles and rocking. I read that swings & sit n spins can be helpful with this. It helps visually impaired kids find where they're at in space. This is a toy that definitely needs to be used with a parent's help, a kid could easily slip on it, but Madelynn started to really love it when she was about 18 months old and quickly learned how to spin herself.

3. Pop Fidget Toy;Tube Fidget Toys I know that everyone knows about these, but they're a must have for VI kids. These toys go everywhere with us. Not only does she love popping them, but her OT has shown us other ways to use them to improve her fine motor skills - like putting cheerios in the indents and having her find them as the video shows. The tube toys have been really great for teaching Madelynn push/pull & building her arm strength to be able to push them together and pull them apart herself. She loves them!

4. Spiky Sensory Ring These were great as teethers when Madelynn was an infant and she's continued to love them into her toddler years. They're great for getting kids used to touching different textures.

Toddler girl wearing purple bubble smiles while holding a green spiky sensory disc.

5. Matching Game Sensory Discs These can be used a multitude of ways. The smaller discs can be stuck to windows or just held and felt. The larger discs are great for learning to walk on different surfaces like the sensory mats.

6. Vibrating Strawberry Teether When Madelynn was an infant, we had a period of time where she would grate her teeth on concrete (yes, that's right yikes). Madelynn's OT identified this as a sensory behavior and told us about vibrating teethers. This literally solved the problem immediately. At first, the sudden movement scared her, but once she knew what to expect she loved (and still loves) this teether.

7. Skywalker Trampolines Mini Trampoline with Enclosure Net, 60 - Inch Madelynn has loved to jump since she was an infant. Eventually our arms got tired of bouncing her ourselves (LOL) so we put this trampoline on her wishlist. She loves to "jumpy jumpy" but hasn't figured out how to actually let her feet leave the ground so she just bounces. This trampoline has a great red bar around the middle that she can hold on to while she tries to jump but at 2 years old, she hasn't quite figured out that she can hold it. We're looking forward to seeing her learn how to use the bar to support herself & to see her feet actually leave the trampoline!

8. GYMNIC Rody Bounce Horse Again with the bouncing! She loves it! This horse comes with a base that makes it stable enough to be used without needing someone to hold her up but the base can be removed. We usually support her whether she's on the base or not just in case she falls.

9. Wrist Bells and Ankle Bells As an infant we put these bells on Madelynn's wrists and ankles to help teach her where her hands and feet were. It also helped her start to reach for toys. She was able to reach in the direction of the sound. When she started teething, she loved how the cold metal felt on her gums so it ended up being a great. These bells also helped us teach her how to 'shake' things.

10. Kids Musical Instruments Similar to the bells, this set comes with a great assortment of musical toys that I find thrown about all over the house. Madelynn always has one of these instruments in her hand and is shaking or clapping something. She loves this set!

11. Mylar Blanket Madelynn loves anything shiny and crinkly so she really loves this blanket now and loved it as an infant.

12. Wikki Sticks These are great to stick on paper to help provide borders for VI kids to color within! It took Madelynn a long time to be interested in coloring. She's still not always extremely interested but using these sticks or puff paint really helps her.

13. Crayola Touch Lights Board This is a new toy Madelynn just got for her birthday and it's a great alternative to coloring on paper. She loves to draw circles on the board and change the light color in the background.

14. Sensory Board This board was made by the shop in the link. I don't see it listed there anymore but she may be willing to make if requested. Madelynn loves this board and all the different feels all over it.

15. Spike the Hedgehog This is a new one that Madelynn just got for her second birthday but she loves it already. Sometimes she gets frustrated if she can't pull a spike out herself but she's learning how to pull them on her own & putting them back on it great for her fine motor skills. We're teaching her to find the hole with her fingers and helping her put the spike back in.

Braille Toys:

1. Uncle Goose Braille ABC Blocks Madelynn has a set of these both at home and at school. We're using them to expose her to Braille through play right now and will continue to use them as we begin pre-braille & teaching Braille.

2. PlanToys Braille Alphabet A-Z & Numbers Madelynn hasn't started learning Braille yet but is about to start pre-braille and we're excited to use these blocks to help teach her. She's starting to show interest in them now and memorize these and her Braille flashcards. These blocks have a tab in the top right corner so that the top can be identified.

3. Braille Flashcards These flashcards are awesome but probably not great for infants. We gave these to Madelynn early on to try to expose her to Braille through play and because they're made of paper, she chewed them and scraped the tactile features with her teeth before she learned to feel with her hands. I think they're great to give around age 18M+. They have tactile elements on the card to help explain what's on the card and the letter in print, Braille, and ASL. Highly recommend these & we can't wait to use them as she gets older and starts learning her letters - both print and Braille!

4. Braille Label Maker Not a toy but this Braille label maker is great for really immersing your family in Braille. It helping Madelynn learn through play right now and will be helpful to her as she gets older and needs to start identifying things around the house like pantry items, etc.

5. Fat Brain Toy This toy is great for teaching so many things visually & through touch from shapes to colors to Braille to fine motor skills like pressing/pushing with fingers.


1. Melissa & Doug Children's Book - Poke-a-Dot Madelynn loves these books, I buy one every time I see one. She's able to find the dots with vision but I can tell it's difficult for her. She's gotten really good at feeling for the dots & popping them helps develop her fine motor skills.

Two books side by side. One titled Counting, the other titled Shapes. Both have the titles printed in Braille below the titles.

2. DK Braille: Counting, DK Braille: Shapes You can get TONS of fabulous books that have been Brailled from Seedlings, but DK makes some amazing books that can be found on Amazon that are actually made with Braille & tactile features. These are two that we just love! Madelynn liked to feel these with her tongue as an infant and now loves to feel them with her hand as a toddler. The Shape book helped her to be able to identify shapes at a very young age. The counting book also has different textures like sticky worms, etc. to help teach different textures.

2. Never Touch a Spider!, Never Touch a Dragon!, Never Touch a Polar Bear! Similar to the DK Braille books, Madelynn felt these with her mouth for a long time and now uses her hands. These books taught her how to identify different textures like bumpy, scaley, spiky, etc. Because she felt them with her mouth for so long and scraped the textures pretty hard, these books show some wear and tear quickly but around 18M she started to learn the right way to touch the tactile features in these books. Seedlings carries some versions of this book Brailled.

3. Touch and Feel: Ponies There's many different versions of this book but Madelynn happens to love the Pony one the best. Another tactile book that's great. This particular one taught Madelynn what a blanket is and showed us that she could generalize what a blanket does - covers a person (or in this case, a horse). Seedlings has tons of great versions of this book that are Brailled.

Toddler girl wearing pink glasses sits in hospital bed reading book titled My Fuzzy Safari Babies

4. My Fuzzy Safari Babies: My Fuzzy Safari Babies We don't go anywhere without this book! It stays in our diaper bag permanently. This book helped teach Madelynn what a monkey is & she can now identify every animal in the book. She loves to pet the fuzzy tactile parts of the book and can name every animal as well as the color of the page. Highly recommend this book!! Our version is Brailled because we bought it through Seedlings.

5. Animal Shapes Another book that Madelynn absolutely loves. This book also helped teach her to identify her shapes - she knows them best in this book out of any!

Bath Toys:

1. Light-Up Bath Toys These are cheap and fun toys that'll give your kiddo their own personal light show during bath time. The toys light up as soon as they hit the water. Make sure that you remove them from the water once bathtime is over - if you leave them in an empty bathtub with water still on them, they'll die quickly. Some blink, some change colors, some just stay lit up. The video below shows Madelynn's light show using these toys as well as the GloPals listed below.

2. Glo Pals Character Pippa & 6 Green Light Up Water Cubes, Glo Pals Character Lumi & 6 Purple Light Up Water Cubes, Glo Pals Character Alex & 6 Yellow Light Up Water Cubes, Glo Pals Character Blair & 6 Blue Light Up Water Cubes We love these! They light up as soon as they hit the water but have arms and legs that are moveable. These confuse Madelynn a little bit since they stop lighting up as soon as they're removed from the water but she loves to lay on her belly and watch them glow. You can see them floating in the water in the video above!

3. PartySticks Glow Sticks Another cheap and fun bath time trick! These started as a fun way to light up the bathtime and not Madelynn likes to count them and could stack them on the edge of the tub all night long if we'd let her. She loves her little game that she plays with them. They're also great for identifying colors.

4. Foam Letters & Numbers These are great for any kid, VI or not! They ended up being used as teethers but never ripped, just dented, so they hold up well. They've also been great for teaching Madelynn to feel the outline of the letters/numbers.

5. Floating Pool Light This fun little toy produces bubbles as it moves and also gives off a strong light as it floats and moves around the tub. You can change the color from red to blue to green to yellow to white.

TV Floor Set Up Materials:

We set this up for Madelynn since she likes to watch everything up close. She has an iPad but it didn't sit up well so we found a use for this old TV we had. This set up allows her to safely get as close as she'd like to whatever movie/show she's watching.

Toddler girl laying on pink couch chair watching Frozen on TV

1. Bookcase This bookcase is cheap and the shelves are adjustable so you can fit the TV properly. It comes with mounting hardware & will need to be mounted to the wall. Madelynn pulled up on this constantly & still does so it needs to be sturdy and safe.

2. 24" TV Our 24" TV fits well on the bottom shelf. We raised the middle shelf enough for it to be able to fit snuggly so that we can get to the outlet behind it if needed but Madelynn won't be able to.

3. Mounting Straps MUST HAVE THESE. Mount the TV to the bottom shelf of the bookcase to make sure this is a safe set up. If not, the TV can easily be pulled over - allowing access to electronics and an outlet. We mounted it tight enough that we can twist it a little bit in case we need to access the outlet behind it or our Firestick but that Madelynn can't. She pulled on our TV heavily and it never budged thanks to these straps.

4. Firestick We use Firesticks in our house, but you could also use an AppleTV or Roku device. Or the SmartTV linked above would remove the need for any devices.

5. Surge Protector Something like this is easy because it plugs directly into the outlet. The TV should be mounted well enough that the child can't get behind it to access this. Everything can be easily plugged in here.

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