A Tucson toy manufacturer is counting on the response and enthusiasm of children with special needs to help market its sensory toys.

Playability Toys, a design and manufacturing company that makes toys for children with special needs, has formed a partnership with Wings on Words, a preschool program that focuses on speech- and language-impaired children, that will provide testimonials to the products' effectiveness.

"It's not enough to develop something and say it's going to work," said Barbara Kiernan, director of the Child Language Center, which houses Wings on Word at 202 E. Speedway. "You need to test things and look at the outcome."

Wings on Words has begun incorporating sensory toys made by Playability into its summer-camp classes to help the company see how the toys can be used in group and therapeutic sessions.

The outcome will, in turn, help Playability market its products to other schools and parents of children with special needs.

"Having teachers and therapists confirm the powerful outcomes our toys can provide is critically important to selling the toys," said Marty Fox, board member for Playability Toys.

"The many special features we design into our toys add some additional cost, so we need to be able to demonstrate to the special-needs communities that these added features will provide real benefits to their children."

Playability's Buddy Dog, Buddy Puppet, Echo the Elephant and Echo puppet - which are sensory toys that have different textures, such as smooth, crinkly and bumpy - have been introduced to the children at Wings on Words and are being tested in the classroom.

Kiernan said she gave the toys to the teachers and left it up to them to find ways to use them in class. The school is recording lessons and documenting the outcomes for Playability to use.

Candy Kennelly, a lead teacher at Wings on Words, said the toys were a success during a "talk it out" session, in which she used Buddy and Echo to role-play a situation that happened in class in which the children were not keeping their hands to themselves during circle time.

Children who are speech impaired often have trouble getting started in conversations, Kiernan said. The toys are sometimes easier for the children to relate to than an adult talking in front of a room.

"We use the toys as a motivational tool to get the kids talking," Kiernan said.

During a session earlier this week, Kennelly's lesson emphasized communication skills, literacy, vocabulary and memory recall using the sensory features of the Buddy and Echo toys.

Kennelly had cards with the words "crinkly," "smooth," "fluffy" and "bumpy" written on them and an example of what each word feels like pasted onto each one.

"Find something crinkly," Kennelly said to Bella Pendolino, 5, and Caden Deatherage, 6.

After touching the toys, Caden excitedly announced he found the crinkly area on the toy's vest. "Oh, that is crinkly," he said.

Once the children went through this process, Kennelly blindfolded them and had them identify the words again, to tap into their memory recall.

This is one example of how the sensory toys can be used in a classroom setting.

"We are thinking of using them across the board," Kiernan said.

The words and sounds learned from Echo and Buddy transfer to other toys and activities. The school is also experimenting with Playability's Rib-It-Ball, which is a large, brightly colored, collapsible ball with external crinkly ribs.

Kennelly used the ball in an exercise designed to teach coordination and team building, in which two children are tasked with carrying the ball across the mat, hands-free.

Caden and Bella recognized the crinkly sound it made from the earlier lesson.

"Being able to share the lesson plans and activities that the Wings on Words staff have prepared will help validate the positive outcomes the toys can provide," said Playability's Fox.

Contact Info

Wings on Words is at 202 E. Speedway. For information about its programs, call 628-1659 or go to clctucson.org online. For information on Playability Toys, see playabilitytoys.com

Contact reporter Angela Pittenger at apitteng@azstarnet.com or 573-4137.