A wheelchair doesn't dull her imagination.

Things to Do With Wheelchair-bound Kids

by Kathryn Walsh

Getting around on wheels instead of feet won't slow a toddler or preschooler down. Keeping up with her will keep you on your toes, especially since a kiddo who's confined to a wheelchair might be sensitive about all the things other kids do that she can't. Busying her with activities that use her brain and working limbs, and making her chair feel like it's something cool, might keep a smile on her face.

1. Sports

No toddler or preschooler has mastered the coordination required for sports, so this is one area where a kiddo in a wheelchair will be right on track with her peers. She can't kick, but she can use those arms to throw, catch and cause the occasional fumble -- just like any other child her age. Play catch with soft balls inside the house, or throw soft balls to her in the backyard and let her bat them away with a child's tennis racket. It will be easier for her to use than a bat while she's seated. Head to a local park and assign one adult to push the wheelchair-bound kiddo. Throw soft footballs to her while her assistant pushes her into position to catch them, or play a modified version of baseball with that same soft ball and racket, with the adult pushing her around the bases. She's actually at an advantage in this case, since a child who can run would probably run to third instead of first, or head straight to the infield to collect flowers.

2. Games

Her legs might be out of commission, but her pudgy little fingers and her quick brain can still beat you in a game of Go Fish. If she doesn't already have a tray attached to a chair, lay one across the handlebars and stack up a pile of her favorite games. For a toddler or preschooler, simple is always best. Play a matching game -- weed out some pairs of cards in advance or the entire game won't fit onto her tray -- or pull out a wooden puzzle and take turns fitting the pieces back into the board. Fill a clear box with small plastic toys or blocks and ask her to guess how many are inside, then count them out together. Or, cover the tray with refrigerator letter magnets and tie a larger magnet to a string so she can go fishing for letters to spell her name.

3. Play Pretend

Toddlers and preschoolers are champion pouters. When she pouts because you won't serve cake for dinner, it's easy to ignore; when her frown appears because she can't do as much as other kids, it's harder to stomach. Take her away from a situation she doesn't like by playing pretend. Award her a crown and magic wand and pretend she's the queen sitting in her throne and you're her royal helper. Let her give you silly or simple commands; you might have to do a dance or fetch her a drink, though you can draw the line at being used as a human footstool. An older preschooler might also like playing office or library. Set up a card table and give her books and office supplies so she can run her operation, with you as her trusty phone-answering assistant.

4. Wheelchair Art

It's bad enough she has to sit in a wheelchair, but spending the day confined in a chair without style is a depressing fate for a kiddo. Turn her chair into a pretend throne or race car so she'll be the envy of all those able-legged kids. Unless you own the chair and don't mind permanently altering it, stick to easily removable decorative items like streamers rather than using stickers or paint. Help her wrap streamers or yarn around the handlebars, and let her decorate baskets and tote bags that she can hang from the chair. She might also like using her chair as the inspiration for craft projects. Give her circular stamps to create wheels on paper, or glue the centers of two small toy wheels to either side of a short dowel. When she runs the wheels through paint and then rolls them across paper, they'll create miniature wheelchair prints.

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