Lekotek Centers facilitate interactive play experiences for children with special needs and their families. They make “the world of play accessible to children with all types of disabilities” through inclusive play sessions with adapted toys, traditional toys, books, and computers.1 Lekotek Centers focus on what children with special needs can do and also the needs of their families who support them to facilitate the children in their learning and development to reach their full potential. To extend the play experience, they also loan appropriate toys, books, and software to children and their families to be used at home.
The National Lekotek Center is the nonprofit central support organization for local Lekotek Centers. They provide information and support in establishing and developing new centers, including staff trainings and certifications.2 They also contribute to the local centers’ toy libraries by distributing toys donated nationally by toy companies. And as a national advocate for the needs of play among children with disabilities, they are influencing how the industry manufactures and retails toys.3
The first Lekotek Center was the idea of two parents of children with disabilities in Stockholm, Sweden. In the early 1960s, they decided to create a program to “include their children fully in their society while fostering their development.”4 “Lekotek” is an original word which combines the Swedish word for toy or play, “lek,” with the Greek suffix “tek,” which means library.5 Lekotek Centers have since become widespread throughout Scandinavian countries, such that they are now a required part of the Norwegian and Swedish social welfare systems.
Lekotek Centers came to America in 1980 through special educators Sally deVincentis and Sharon Draznin, who heard of the movement while at a conference in Scotland.6 They were first trained in Norway and then they opened the first U.S. Lekotek Center in Evanston, Illinois. In 1987, the Center received the Freedom Foundation Award as the country’s most outstanding innovative service to children. The following year, in 1988, Lekotek Centers were recognized by Congress as a model program for children and families.7
As the Lekotek movement spread in America, Evanston became the National Lekotek Center, which assisted the organization of new centers, provided the training of staff and Play Specialists, and maintained a consistent quality program throughout the United States. Lekotek Play Specialists are professionals who have a bachelor's degree in special education or a therapeutic discipline who have additionally completed the Lekotek Leader Training.8
The core Lekotek program consists of monthly one hour play sessions for children with disabilities ages 0-8 years of age and their families, loans of 5-10 toys to facilitate play at home, parenting support, and Compuplay - computer play with enlarged keypads and track balls.9 While the children are playing, they are learning new skills that support literacy, mathematical reasoning, and computer use. At Lekotek they believe that play “is the very fuel children use to explore the world, develop their mind, relate to others, solve problems, reason, acquire skills, recognize their abilities to function in the world and utilize the play experience for both physical and emotional release.”10
Depending on the area's needs, other Lekotek services can include family playgroups, parent support groups, home play sessions, lending software, and CompuCamp, a computer-based summer camp.11 All the Lekotek services are provided for a monthly fee, often with a sliding fee schedule to assist families.12
After over twenty years, in 2002, the National Lekotek Center became a division of Chicago's Anixter Center, a provider of educational, vocational, and health care services for individuals with disabilities.13 The Anixter Center's mission of assisting people with disabilities to live and work successfully in the community complements the National Lekotek Center's mission of using interactive play to promote inclusion and learning for children with disabilities.
The National Lekotek Center's partnering with Anixter Center was a means to expand their mission cost effectively while still maintaining their own identity. Together they have been able to share knowledge and combine strengths for developing inclusive programming for people with disabilities.
In 2005, the National Lekotek Center introduced AblePlay, a website that rates and reviews toys and play products for children with disabilities. Organized according to physical, sensory, communicative, or cognitive disabilities, AblePlay assists parents, families, educators, and therapists to make informed toy purchases that fit the needs of the children.14 The comprehensive toy reviews include a product photo and details on product features, skill benefits, and creative play ideas.15 These detailed reviews and ratings are provided by experts in the fields of special education and early childhood education.
The National Lekotek Center co-hosted the Snug Play USA play event held at the Creative Discovery Museum to showcase a loose parts concept of play. After observing approximately 100 children of all ability levels play with the large-scale, modular, loose-part play pieces, the National Lekotek Center gave their ratings for their AblePlay website to the PlayCore product line, Snug Play USA, based on the sensory, communicative, physical, and cognitive values of the play toys.16
Since 2005, the National Lekotek Center has been invited every year to be a toy judge for the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Children's Products Competition.17 They have also assisted Toys “R” Us with their annual Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids.18
Within the toy industry the National Lekotek Center has advised toy companies, such as Fisher-Price, Mattel, Little Tykes Company, Hasbro, Crayola, and Toys "R" Us, on product development, materials development, and product evaluation. In this way they assist companies to provide toys for more children by including children with various levels of abilities.19
For example, the National Lekotek Center has consulted with Rokenbok Toy Systems and Crane Industries about the redesigning of their remote control to utilize pushing, pulling, and twisting movements rather than the fine motor movements needed to push buttons. Funded by the San Diego Foundation, this new design and other changes create a modified version to be distributed free of charge to nonprofit organizations and Lekotek Centers.20
The Lekotek Centers have shown that “with encouragement and the right toys, children can depart from the world of struggles and tasks into the joyful experience of play and through that accomplish more than anyone ever dreamed possible.” This is possible because “when a child enters the realm of play, he also enters the realm of potential and possibilities.”21
- 1. “Lekotek...What is Lekotek?” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/lekotek/whatis.asp > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 2. “Lekotek...National Affiliates.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/lekotek/affiliates.asp > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 3. “Services to the Toy Industry... Array of Products & Services.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/services/toyind/prodsserv.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 4. “Lekotek...History of Lekotek.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/lekotek/history.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 5. “Lekotek...Frequently Asked Questions.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/lekotek/faq.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 6. Op.cit., “Lekotek...History of Lekotek.”
- 7. “Lekotek...Recognition and Awards.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/lekotek/awards.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 8. “Services to Families...Lekotek Leaders.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/services/family/leaders.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 9. Op.cit., “Lekotek...What is Lekotek?”
- 10. Kaiser, Macy and Jean Bailey. “Facts behind the Fun.” Lekotek. < http://www.ableplay.org/pages/LWP-Executive-Summary.pdf > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 11. “Services to Families...Other Programs.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/services/family/programs.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 12. Op.cit., “Lekotek...Frequently Asked Questions.”
- 13. “New faces. Same commitment.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/pdfs/press/lekoanixpage1.pdf > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 14. “Resources...AblePlay – Toys for Children with Special Needs.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/resources/ableplay.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 15. Nielander, Diana. “Getting 'Beyond the Box' with AblePlay: A New Web Resource about Toys and Play for Children with Special Needs.” The Autism Perspective. Fall 2006: 22-23. < http://www.lekotek.org/pdfs/press/TAP2006_Issue_4-AblePlay.pdf > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 16. “Business Development...Snug.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/resources/SNUG.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 17. “Resources...NAPPA.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/resources/nappa.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 18. “Resources...Toys “R” Us Guide for Differently-Abled Kids!” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/resources/toysrus.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 19. Op.cit., “Services to the Toy Industry...Array of Products & Services.”
- 20. “Services to the Toy Industry...Project Toy Innovation.” Lekotek. < http://www.lekotek.org/services/toyind/innovation.html > 20 Jan. 2012.
- 21. Op.cit., Kaiser and Bailey.