Creative toys like play putty and sand give children a different experience each time they play.
The next time you’re looking for a unique toy for a special occasion, consider a trip to The Sensory Shop. This one-of-a-kind toy store, located in Southaven, Mississippi, is a one-stop shop for developmental toys, therapeutic aids, and educational tools for children with or without special needs. Owners Ricky and Cassidy Todd’s quest to find toys that met the needs of their daughter, Carol Anna (who was diagnosed with autism last year), eventually led them to create the store, which opened last November. They hope the specialty toys they carry will foster children’s creativity and imagination.
Design makes a difference
My recent visit to the store proved to be a different type of shopping experience. The store’s overall appearance reflects the Todd’s thoughtful planning. Ceilings, walls, and floors are covered in tranquil blues and greens. LED lighting replaces buzzing fluorescents, and soft background music helps to make this an enjoyable trip for families with special- needs kids. “We want our customers to feel soothed instead of over-stimulated,” says Cassidy Todd.
Why invest in sensory toys?
“Sensory toys are often cause-and-effect toys that offer feedback in the form of sound, light, movement, texture, and taste. This helps kids with sensory challenges to be calmer, self-regulated, and focused,” observes Karen Krejcha, executive director of Autism Empowerment, a Vancouver, Washington-based nonprofit organization dedicated to making life more meaningful for individuals and families in the autism community. To that end, the store specializes in sensory fidgets, oral chews, visual timers, weighted vests and T-shirts, Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, and therapeutic Kinetic Sand. Their knowledgeable staff, many of whom have ties to the special-needs community, offer personalized service. Krejcha recommends investing in sensory toys as part of home play therapy and suggests using them to reinforce positive behavior.
The store carries a wide variety of indoor and outdoor toys including cuddle swings, Calico Critter dolls, Plasma cars, marble-run motorized cars, fold-n-go trampolines, trains, Spooner boards, games, and puzzles. The staff shows me the PlanToys that decorate one corner of the store. These nontoxic, eco-friendly wooden blocks are among their best sellers and are perfect for kids who frequently put toys in their mouths. Other nontoxic products include eco-dough, finger paint, and crayons. In addition to considering safety, Krejcha recommends thinking about a child’s developmental ability rather than their age when buying a toy.
Discovering the “woohoo” factor
Krejcha also points out the “woohoo” factor, that special something in a toy that excites, educates, entertains, or encourages a child’s communication in some way. Purchasing a toy that appeals to a child’s interests will increase the likelihood that the toy gets played with repeatedly. Todd says they discover the woohoo factor by playing with toys themselves while keeping in mind the needs of their customers. When possible, it’s best to bring your number one toy critic and enthusiast along to see if he or she has a preference. “Our ‘try-before-you-buy’ philosophy allows children to be hands-on in the store and eases the mind of parents before they make their purchase,” adds Todd.
Going beyond the store
In an effort to reach out to the community, the store has hosted several workshops, exploring healthcare and behavioral issues, parenting and play. It also has a weekly story time, holiday-related activities, and birthday party packages. Besides welcoming the Easter Bunny and decorating an Easter candy cottage in April, they’re planning an Autism Awareness Workshop. They’ll also “Light It Up Blue” in the store window for World Autism Awareness Day, April 2nd. Yard signs are available for purchase for families who want to participate. Part of the proceeds will go to Autism Speaks. • For the store’s monthly calendar of events, visit facebook.com/thesensoryshop or call (662) 536-6187. The Sensory Shop, 5627 Getwell Road, Southaven, MS 38672.