One of the ten characteristic visual behaviors of Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI) is “light-gazing and nonpurposeful gazing.” Practically speaking, this translates at the most basic level to “attention to light.” My daughter, Rosalie, is at a point on the CVI Range where she does not need light (or low lighting) to visually attend to things, but lights can still be hugely beneficial for her visual attention. So, today I’m sharing some of her tried-and-true favorite light-up toys!
Because the multi-sensory input of lights AND music playing at the same time can be too complex for some children with CVI to process visually, I’ve broken down the list into the categories of “musical” and “non-musical” for easier reference. Fair warning, though: Rosalie LOVES music (it’s one of her favorite things), so this list is heavy on the musical light-up toys. And speaking personally, I cannot handle toys that make a bunch of obnoxious sound (Goodness knows my 3 kids make enough noise on their own!), so almost every musical toy we have plays classical music – because that is one thing I can handle (and even enjoy) listening to over and over and over and over….
MUSICAL LIGHT-UP TOYS
1. Baby Einstein Glow and Discover Light Bar Toy
As we continued working hard to build Rosalie’s head, neck, and core strength and endurance it was imperative (and still is) that she spend quality time playing on her tummy. Her occupational therapist (OT) suggested using a light-up toy designed for encouraging tummy time and this was the first one I purchased. This light bar immediately improved her tummy time tolerance since the musical and colorful lights make it fun and easy for her to see while playing in one of her defined play spaces. I like that is has 3 different modes that change what the colored buttons do (music, animal sounds, and colors) and the 2 volume options are (in my opinion) good/not too loud. I also appreciate that I can spin the clear ball in the middle to make it play a song, which gives me enough time to quickly step away and get something done before returning. It also has English, Spanish, and French options and the little kickstand can be closed if you prefer to lay it completely flat. Retails for about $20.
2. Baby Einstein Pop and Glow Piano
This was a gift for Rosalie’s first birthday that I had on her “wish-list” and not only was I thrilled she received it, but the first time she saw it her face completely lit up with pure joy! It was magnificent to behold.
Learning to push buttons was an exciting developmental milestone for Rosalie, and as she grows stronger and has better head control during tummy time we have been challenging her by getting her to look around and reach for toys. This piano is a motivating option to get her reaching and pushing buttons during tummy time, but it is also a toy that would be great once she can sit independently. It has a melody mode that will automatically play a song once the buttons have been pushed enough times and a piano mode that just plays notes when the keys are hit. Pressing the keys not only plays music, but pops the little ocean pieces up and activates the lights – which means it gives a child a lot of positive feedback for pushing the piano key(s). I find the 2 volume settings to be good/not too loud. Retails for about $20.
3. Baby Einstein Octopus Orchestra
My husband and I gave this to Rosalie for her 1st birthday and it continues to grow on me. Functionally speaking, the octopus is very similar to the first two toys on the list BUT this one plays music far longer than either of the others. This is because (unlike the Glow & Discover Light Bar or the Pop & Glow Piano) unless you turn the toy off, an activated song will not stop playing until it finishes. When a song is playing and a button/key is pushed on either of the first two toys (listed above) the song is interrupted. The Octopus Orchestra is designed so that it will play music only with the instruments that have been activated; this means if you only push the trumpet button it will play a song only with the trumpet. As you hit additional buttons the other instruments join in – so the song does not get interrupted by additional button pushes, but keeps playing with added accompaniment. Or, you can simply hit the yellow music note button in the middle to play a song with all 5 instruments. It’s worth noting that these buttons are a bit harder to push (compared to the incredibly light and sensitive keys on the Pop & Glow Piano), but Rosalie has recently begun to push these buttons on her own sometimes. My only complaint is that even the quieter of the 2 volume settings is too loud for my taste; this is definitely a toy to play with when everyone in the household is awake. Retails for about $20, but I snagged it on sale for $10!
4. Fisher-Price Light-Up Lion Stacker
When I put this ring stacker on Rosalie’s 1st birthday wish-list I was thinking it would be awhile before she could use it – but I was wrong! Even though she cannot yet sit independently or stack the rings, she can hold on to the star-shaped rings and has been learning (during OT) how to drop them into a (bright red) basket. I like this particular ring stacker for a child with CVI because the rings are shiny and transparent (the shine and reflective appearance aids in CVI attention-grabbing since reflective properties can look like movement or light) and the stand has yellow lights that are activated when rings are placed on it. When the lion head is placed on top (or the top button is pushed) it plays fun music, too! Retails for about $25-30.
5. LeapFrog Learn and Groove Color Play Drum
This is one of the very few light-up toys we had before having a daughter with CVI. It’s been in our family for 4.5+ years and gotten a decent amount of play, so I’d say it’s pretty durable! The top of the drum lights up when hit OR you can push the star-shaped button to activate talking followed by a song and lights. The 3 drumming modes have different tunes that focus on colors, counting, and opposites. I like that it has a small handle so it can easily be picked up/carried around. I’ve only recently shown this toy to Rosalie and she cannot yet do much with it, but she loves to watch the lights when I push the star button (and she reaches for it in tummy time, so that’s a “win”). The drum can talk/sing in English or Spanish. Apparently it now retails for about $30-40, but I distinctly remember buying it for less than $15 at Toys R Us all those years ago….
6. Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy
THIS IS MY (I MEAN HER…) ALL-TIME FAVORITE! This toy has been well-loved by all my babies and is still going strong after nearly 4.5 years of use (thanks to a few battery changes); believe it or not, the sticker on the button only began to wear off once Rosalie (our 3rd child) started playing with it. This one is really simple: you push one button to activate classical tunes accompanied by a few colorful, dancing lights. It has 2 volume settings and is (in my opinion) the perfect volume. The handle is fun to play with/grab and when I say this toy goes everywhere with us right now I’m not exaggerating…. Retails for about $9.
7. Baby Einstein Keys to Discover Piano Toy
This one is very similar to the “Take Along Tunes” (#6), with 3 key differences: it lights up yellow (not an assortment of colors), it has 3 buttons (instead of 1), and in addition to the classical music the buttons say numbers (in English, Spanish, & French). I picked this out because we love our “Take Along Tunes” toy so much and I thought it would be nice to have a little more variety on-the-go. Plus, it’s a solid red color and the lights are yellow, which was a winning visual combo with Rosalie’s initial CVI-related color preferences. My only complaints are that it is not nearly as durable as the “Take Along Tunes” toy (it’s much thinner and after one drop from my 3 year-old on a hard surface the sound is a bit distorted) and I think the volume is too loud for a toy that is potentially up close to a baby’s ears. Between the two, I still prefer the “Take Along Tunes” but this one makes for another fun option that is perhaps less visually complex. Retails for about $9.
8. Baby Einstein Sea Dreams Soother Crib Toy
When I first learned of Rosalie’s CVI I was brainstorming ways to adapt her crib, which led me to find this crib toy. It has a variety of at least 4 mode options that can include lights only, music with lights/sea creature movement, or you can even play some white noise with or without the lights. I like the setting that lights up along with the music; Rosalie is mesmerized by the little ocean creatures slowly “swimming” through the brightly-lit “water.” Full disclosure: I make sure this is turned off at bedtime because I do not want her to accidentally turn it on somehow – but it’s great for those times when she has just woken up from bedtime or a nap and is still content in her crib. Sometimes it buys me enough time to get my other kids dressed/ready or breakfast made, which makes it a great way to work on my daughter’s vision while being helpful to me as a busy mom of 3 young kids. Retails for about $40 (a little pricey but can be used however long your child is in a crib!).
NON-MUSICAL LIGHT-UP TOYS
9. Light Balls
If you’re unfamiliar with light balls, they are balls…that light up! Pretty self-explanatory. The lights are activated by touch, which can be really motivating/rewarding visual feedback for kids that need to work on reaching/touching/tapping. I love that these toys are easy for my daughter to see AND quiet! This can be incredibly calming for kids with CVI that might struggle with too much sensory input. I found all of these balls in the outdoor sports/activity aisles in Target and Wal-Mart. On Amazon the blue soccer LightBall retails for about $12, but I’m certain I did not pay that much when it was on clearance at the end of the summer at Target. I purchased all of these balls for $3-8 each. Any store that has outdoor toys should carry them.
10. Glow Stick LED Flashlights
I stumbled upon these treasures when I was on the hunt for small flashlights (for highlighting items I wanted Rosalie to see when she first was diagnosed with CVI). I found them in the camping flashlight section at Wal-Mart and they are staples in my diaper bag since they are small and easy to take on-the-go. These particular ones have a steady glow or flashing light option. Whenever these lights wear out I definitely plan to replace them considering they only cost me about $3 (for both) and have survived 6+ months of regular use. For about $3 you can purchase this similar pack of 5.
BONUS! A couple more (non-musical) light-up toy ideas (because why not?):
11. Assorted strings of light.
You can find these nearly anywhere (try your local dollar store); at this point they are choking hazards for my daughter, but she sure loves to look at them.
What are some of your favorite light-up toys for a child with CVI? I’ve got several sitting on Rosalie’s on-going wish-list, including the Munchkin Mozart Magic Cube ($25), the Bright Starts Having a Ball Roll and Chase Bumblebee ($17), and this light-up carousel Toddler and Baby Musical Activity Drum Toy ($25).