Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Inclusive community toy library opens in Pasir Ris

Children with special needs get to play with other kids using toys adapted for them
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2016

While most children would be thrilled to go to a big indoor playground with lots of new toys, six-year-old Quazza Ilhandyl is sometimes overwhelmed.

He has autism and delayed speech development, and his mother, Ms Intan Armelia, 34, said Quazza finds it hard to play with peers because they cannot understand him.

"Sometimes when we go out as a family, it's hard to get all four children to have fun at the same time," said the freelance dance instructor.

So she was happy to discover a new toy library in her neighbourhood where her three sons and daughter, aged 10 months to six years, can have fun together with other children.

The North East Community Toy Library @ Pasir Ris Elias Community Club was opened officially yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Teo Chee Hean.

It is meant to be an inclusive space where children with special needs can play alongside mainstream school children with toys specially adapted to their needs.

There are more than 50 toys in a room on the second floor of the club. It has space for about 30 children and their caregivers, and is open daily from 10am to 9pm.

The playroom, set up by the North East Community Development Council (CDC) and Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore (CPAS), is believed to be the first integrated toy library in Singapore, and is the fourth toy library in the district.

North East District Mayor and Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck said he hopes to see 20 toy libraries in the district - at least one per constituency - by the end of the year, and that there will eventually be as many as 90 to match the number of book kiosks in the district.

"I want to thank the community for donating. Residents themselves are filling up the libraries with books and toys," said Mr Teo.

The toys in the new library include motor cars with remote controls that have larger buttons, developed by non-profit organisation Engineering Good and engineering firm Arup to cater to children with fine motor skills challenges. Children will be able to use the toys in the playroom, and there may be a loan programme when more toys are available, said the CDC.

Starting next month, CPAS will organise weekly activity sessions in the room on Mondays for pre-school children from special needs and mainstream schools.

CPAS executive director and North East CDC's district councillor Jessie Holmberg said barriers between children may be reduced when they start playing together at a young age.

"Children will learn to care for each other beyond their own needs when they see their peers needing help," she added.

A recent survey of over 1,000 people found that only half of parents polled were comfortable with a special needs child sitting next to their child in class, and only one in 10 Singaporeans was confident of interacting with special needs children.

Safety manager John Ong, 38, who visited the new toy library yesterday with his wife and four daughters, said it is a good place for children to learn to share and socialise.

"I hope they will become more understanding of other kids with different needs, so that future generations can be closer together," he said.

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