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Toybank - Development through Play is enabling disabled kids to discover the power of play

For most children, playing with toys is an important way to learn and develop. For children with disabilities, it can also help support specific challenges. Toys have been known to encourage better communication and improve mobility and of course can be lots of fun.

However, access to toys is a luxury for many children in India, a gap that Toybank - Development through Play has been working to fill for the last 15 years.

Toybank does this by recycling toys, meaning it collects used toys, fixes them and gives them away to schools and homes for unprivileged children across India.

In Maharashtra, Toybank also reaches out to over 950 children with disabilities.

Toybank reaches out to around 955 children with disability through 30 play centers. This is specific to Maharashtra, and specific to children with disability, we have 13 urban and three rural centers. We have been working with children with disabilities from the very inception since many centres have a mix of children, with and without disabilities. - Madhulika Dhindaw, Head, Welfare For Toybank - Development through Play

Apart from regular toys and games that hold universal appeal, Toybank also chooses specific toys for children with disabilities depending on the play center's need.

"We curate every play center to develop or enhance certain skills. We keep the nature of the disability in mind during the selection of toys and games for the center," says Dhindaw. "They are chosen keeping in mind the fun element which helps break the ice and gets them involved with activities as well as help them gain knowledge."

This includes multi-sensory games like Memory Skills, Mind Challenge, Puzzle, Mosaic Fun, etc that help increase spatial memory, and dexterity, Mec-O-Tec, Mechanix, Junior Architect and other such building materials to improve grasping and arranging techniques, and games like Dog & the Bone, Master Kit, Guess Who, Hide N Seek to increase tactile recognition, strategic abilities, and hand eye coordination. "Toys which enable gross motor skills and fine motor skill are also kept in mind," adds Dhindaw.

Toybank carries out collection drives across Mumbai, at schools, housing societies, offices, etc to get the toys and games for its centers. When the drives do not throw up specific requirements, Toybank procures them.

Among the schools in Mumbai it has partnered with is Sodawala Lane School, a government school, which reaches out to over 100 children with intellectual and physical disabilities.

"The toys and games Toybank provides us with focus on motor skills, hand-eye coordination, cognitive development as well as communication skills," says Principal Ashlesha Pawar. "So there are puzzles where on one side you have the picture of an animal and on the other a picture of the food it eats or habitat. This way they learn and have fun."

This experience is backed by research that shows toys support concrete learning as well as perceptions, motor functioning and communication.

Gayathri Sridhar, special educator and member of Special Child Assistance Network (SCAN), a Chennai-based network of parents with children with disabilities says basic concepts of cognition are well understood by children with the help of toys.

"For shapes, visual perceptions, size, and colour counting, we start with toys only. I use wooden toys both at home and school. Pallanguzhi, an ancient Tamil board game, is a must keep at home. Math concepts are easily done with it. They help in fine motor functioning. Finger puppets help with many concepts on motor skills like finger separation to creative expression. Many children would develop intent to communicate n socialize when we use toys."

This learning, however, is something many children with disabilities miss out on, given how expensive many toys and games are. This makes Toybank's initiative invaluable, as Pawar points out. "Toys and games are very expensive and since we rely a lot of donor support, we don't really have the funds to allocate towards this, so this partnership with Toybank is very important to us."

Be it a sense of independence, security or imagination, toys and games play a critical role in every child's development. To help build greater awareness about this, Toybank also conducts workshops on sensitization to sensitize people about the power of play for all children.

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