Harwood Heights special ed class benefits from toy lending program
Laura Kibler, the West Suburban Special Recreation Association's Lekotek Leader, delivers toys at Union School in Harwood Heights last week. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 1, 2013 6:59AM
HARWOOD HEIGHTS — One can develop myriad skills while playing games.
At Union Ridge School in Harwood Heights, special education teacher Lauren Pace takes advantage of a toy-lending library operated by West Suburban Special Recreation Association.
The agency, which provides educational and recreation services to children and adults with disabilities, serves nine communities, including Norridge, Harwood Heights, Oak Park, River Forest, Elmwood Park and Franklin Park.
Making her monthly rounds, Laurie Kibler stopped by Union Ridge to drop off a new selection of toys and to pick up the ones she brought last time.
Kibler, the WSSRA’s Lekotek leader, said the organization has more than 2,000 toys in its inventory, available to participating communities’ schoolS.
The children who benefit from the program have no idea they are learning or developing skills as they play, Kibler said.
“It’s the most ideal situation,” she noted. “And when the kids master one set of skills, we bring in other toys to develop new skills.”
Besides providing a monthly rotation of toys to schools, WSSRA also offers the program to families.
Much like with the school program, the Lekotek leader meets once a month for an hour-long play session with the parent or guardian of the child.
For Pace, the service is a godsend.
“We don’t have much storage here,” she said, pointing to bins on top of bins on top of cabinets. “We also don’t have the funds to buy many of these toys, even if we had the space.”
This month Kibler brought 13 toys from which Pace had to choose 10.
“I like to give the teachers options,” Kibler said.
Some games are good for when the students sit in a circle and take turns.
“Sometimes a kid might need incentive to say his name, sing or dance,” Pace said. “These toys help children enter zones that they’re not familiar, or comfortable, with.”
Other toys address cause-and-effect.
“If you do this, that will happen,” Pace explained.
That theory also works in trying to teach students to look beyond the moment, so “they learn about different options,” Pace said.
One child might become upset because he did not acquire the particular number or color he wanted.
“We try to teach the child, ‘Maybe next time,’” Pace said. “And ‘next time’ comes. It relieves anxiety.”
Once the child can increase his attention span, Pace can try to build on that newfound skill to develop new ones.
Helping is Kibler’s willingness to make allowances for special programs.
“If I’m working on a theme, maybe pizza or a grocery store, I can call up Laurie and she’ll bring things.
“It’s a very nice extension of the program.”
For Kibler, working with teachers such as Pace makes her job even more enjoyable.
“Lauren is good at transition,” Kibler said. “You have a game that can be played according to color, number.
“And then she comes up with a new idea,” Kibler explained. “I get to learn things.”