A recently opened toy store in the north of England outlined its plans to become a ‘center for Merseyside families’ by providing toys, products and resources for SEN children.
The Sensory Toy Shop is an independent and inclusive toy store located in Wirral which, having opened on the day of the lifting of government restrictions on non-essential retailers in April, is placing itself at the center of its local community while “offering SEN toys. the High Street presence they deserve.
Run by Leanne and Adam Eaton, the independent store is only weeks away from physical activity – having operated a Click and Collect service throughout the last nationwide lockdown – but sales already appear to be booming. “The fantastic response from parents and local families” as well as “pent-up demand” from across the UK for its products have made the couple a successful outing so far.
Working in a SEN school and having grown up with British Sign Language as a child with her deaf sister, Leanne Eaton has spent her entire life in the SEN community. It goes without saying that she shares the frustrations of parents of children with additional needs that products for which “there is such a demand” are not found on UK shopping streets.
Together with their partner, Adam, the couple decided to provide a solution to the problem themselves and set up their own store.
“Children shouldn’t have to go to school to find and use these kinds of SEN toys and products,” Leanne Eaton told ToyNews. “Parents shouldn’t have to browse the internet, they should be there, ready on the main street with a real mainstream presence. “
This is the reasoning that triggered the concept of creating their own center for families with SEN children. Not only will The Sensory Toy Shop look to supply the latest SEN toys and gadgets, LEGO Braille and Braille products, wheelchair Barbies and dolls with cochlear implants, flavorless toothpaste and vibrating pillows, but it will house a sensory room. for children – and adults – as well as special courses ranging from British Sign Language, speech and language and mindfulness courses.
“A lot of parents who have SEN children don’t feel comfortable meeting at the local Costa because of their behavior,” says Eaton. “So there are a lot of parents who come here and say it’s good not to have to apologize to their kids for asking inappropriate questions, because we understand.
“We will have breakout rooms where parents can sit and chat with like-minded parents who are going through the same thing and have a cup of tea.”
In fact, once the restrictions are lifted this month, the plans for The Sensory Toy Shop are vast. The top of the bill is to develop a sensory room in one of the areas on the ground floor of the store which Eaton says will contain “anything you can imagine for a sensory room”.
“We will have fiber optic ceilings, bubble walls, the large overflow mirrors,” she explains. “We’re also looking to open up more upstairs, with sign language lessons (taught by a deaf teacher from the school I work in) while I can help people practice when they come to talk to me.
“We also have a bicycle with a platform for a wheelchair which will be for hire. There are children who have never ridden a bicycle, and now they can. They just turn and they go. It’s all part of our plans to become a hub for families across Merseyside.
Having spent five years teaching at his local SEN school, Eaton has seen firsthand the impact that additional needs-based products and inclusive toys – such as Wheelchair Barbie and Lottie Dolls – are not only having on SEN children, but all children. she meets. His passion for the subject causes frustration that many of these toys are hard to find here in the UK.
“There just aren’t enough of these toys,” she says. “Mattel and Barbie have done well with their inclusive line, but some of the other big doll brands – why don’t they have dolls that include all different abilities?
“We have children coming in, able-bodied children – who want to buy a Barbie doll in a wheelchair, because, well, why not? They just like it. I think a lot of big companies are too afraid to do something too specific in case it doesn’t sell. But it’s wrong.
Leanne and Adam Eaton have both been active in leading the conversation with suppliers, speaking with a Spanish supplier about the development of dolls that have additional needs, noting that the public has always been there for these products and the demand is only growing. start to happen. himself known now.
“I think the fact that certain steps have been taken, parents see that toys can be inclusive and representative,” says Eaton. “The realization that there is something that can be done to bring inclusiveness to Main Street is growing, so the demands are becoming more and more vocal. Hopefully the message will become more important. In the meantime, we will continue to do our part to fill the market gaps. “