Thursday, March 8, 2012

Review & Giveaway: Park and Learn: Just Flip the Switch!

I like that even though he's comfortable, he's still in a forward-facing position and he is looking directly at his work.    He's "on." And yup, that's a Whisperphone on his ear. 
WHAT: Park and Learn by Abilitations
DOES: provides a unique mode of support to children whose bodies need to move; acts as a tool for kids to "turn on their focus"
INVEST: $115.36  (all individuals receive "Educator Price" or "Catalog Price")
TOOLS: I Can Take Care of Myself, My Body Needs to Move, More Make-Believe Please, Social Scene Helper, Family Fix-its

When I used to work in an office, my department would have meetings in the conference room.   The room had a long table and plenty of swivel chairs.  I would go and put my notebook down, sit in the chair, and hopefully I'd be the first one in the room because the next thing I would do is immediately press the lever underneath the seat and then....


I would sink to the lowest level possible.  My colleagues usually noticed and some even gave me a what-the-heck-face but no one said anything.  Still, I never saw any of my colleagues doing this.  In a room of 15 people, some of whom were shorter than me, I would be the only one to lower my chair.  Why?

Well, for one thing,  I know that if my feet do not touch the floor, I cannot think straight.  Inevitably, I will end up slouching and shifting.  I may also try to sit in a criss-cross-applesauce-style on my seat..  The image of me slouching or sitting in a yoga position at the conference table is not something I want my boss to be picturing come who-gets-a-promotion?-time.  Thus, even if I have to be the shortest person in the room and even if it makes that embarrassing BOOOSH sound, I would ALWAYS lower my seat, join the group, and pay attention.

Now ask me if I had a lever under my chair in elementary school......

There is a clear pocket on the bottom to place a name card (interchangeable). You can also see that it's actually harder to look sideways in this position hence, less distractions. Yes! (photo courtesy: Abilitations)

Ants in Your Pants and Wiggly Bottoms

I doubt that even the fanciest of fancy schools will seat their students in adjustable height cushiony chairs.   And yet, we expect them to sit there for the majority of their school day while we at work sit in a cushioned swivel chair with a special back pillow: "My company should support my need because I can perform better with a pain-free back." - we say to the office manager.   Sadly, kids back then and many even today, do not get enough of this kind of support even though it will help them "perform better" or even "make appropriate progress."  I'm not just talking about school too.  I am also talking about home - the place where I make most of my biggest mistakes.

"I have students that have a really hard time sitting in a regular chair," said Alison Berkley, one of Toys are Tools' favorite expert educators and co-owner of Emerge and See Education Center.  She sometimes uses a little air cushion on these kids' seats to help them get a little bit of the movement and subdue the need to fidget so they can work at the task at hand.

Alison sees the Park and Learn as a tool that provides the child with a confined space.  This space gives them a little bit of a squeeze, a little bit of input where the student is able to instead of focus on the need to move around, they focus on the reading or writing or whatever it is that they are doing. You might wonder however, if this is all really necessary.  Can't we just throw them a fidget and call it a day?

It's really roomy in there!!! Check out the dashboard/tool holder. My son never used his dashboard but he sure used the steering wheel and the emergency break (or clutch). (photo courtesy: Abilitations)

Who Doesn't Need Productivity and Creativity?

I think back to those really long meetings, retreats, or workshops I attended, where employees were asked to separate into groups and come up with something brilliant and wonder how Park and Learns and other comfy seating options could possibly inspire brilliant ideas.  I bet if you search around, you'll find that more of the inventive and creative companies are using non-traditional seating to encourage maximum thinking and potential.  I would bet that these employees don't need this type of seating, rather, companies may be spending the extra cash because they just think it is just plain better for everyone, especially the bottom line.  But we are not in this mode of thinking for kids yet, right?

For kids, sometimes, we don't want to offer "different" whether or not it is needed or just plain better.  We may even think that giving them a different chair is insulting and draws negative attention or makes them dependent.  But I think that is all in the mind of the person presenting the chair.  You'd be surprised to see how those thoughts leap off a grown-up and go straight to the kid. 

When my trusty playmaster Number 1 first saw the Park and Learn, he shouted with delight!  I was the coolest mom in the world.  Both of my children did.  Why? Uh, well it looks like a car and they can fit into it.  It comes with a steering wheel, dashboard, and there are even wheels sewn onto the sides.  I think kids see it and immediately feel the way they do when they see a huge empty cardboard box at home- one that is big enough for them to sit and lean back in.  The possibilities are endless. 

I am hoping that we will convey to kids this kind of open-ended image in hopes that they could make good use of a tools like Park and Learn.  This product is for them to use and love and not restrict them in anyway. In fact, for the kids who feel the urge to move, this product isn't really telling them "do not move."

"We are saying that 'You have a different learning style',"  Alison said.  "Some kids can sit in chairs for long periods of time and others can't.  That doesn't mean you're incapable of doing the math. It just means that you need a little bit more support."

The dashboard/pencil case and other stuff holder can be taken out and transferred back to the desk. (photo courtesy: Abilitations)

Input?  Input What? Into Your Computer? Yes but the Computer is Your Brain

That support is also known as input.  For those of you who are not familiar with sensory processing issues,* I think a great example of "input" could be something as simple as a girdle. (Yes, the thing that some women and even men wear.)  Even if it's there because it sucks in your tummy, you know that it's also making you sit up straight.    All of our bodies tire in different places in different ways and at different rates.  Many of our kids will lean on us, even as they get much older.   They need the support. They need that input.

So with the Park and Learn as Alison said, "You're proactively addressing the need for some kind of input whether that is movement or a light squeeze because in that Park and Learn, the walls of the car are kind of hugging them.  And just that little amount of input can help the brain shift their focus away from the need to get that input and focus it primarily on what they are trying to do, which is the work."

How Can I Make This Work?

Alison suggested that one would have to do some trial and error before you could see what worked and what didn't work for a child.   As an example, she described a student who may be strong in reading and writing but then you might see a spike in hyperactivity and distractibility when he is doing math.   To this child, she suggested, you might want to have the child do his math in the Park and Learn and see if that environment helps with gaining more focus to deal with the math problems better.

"But it's really about the individual kid and what works and doesn't work.  There might be some kids that just want to take a break in there," said Alison.  "And that's why it's a great product.  You don't have to use it in one uniform way for every kid."

Number 1 weighs 60 lbs. but this boy looks way bigger than that and he looks pretty comfortable. (photo courtesy: Abilitations)

Flip the Switch

Alison used the analogy of flipping a switch to really capture how a child could approach the idea of using the Park and Learn. "You're setting up the learning environment," Alison told me. "And I do all those tricks that teachers have where you put on your 'thinking helmet.'  You strap it on, you turn it on, and it goes BZSHH and now you're thinking."   She said that this approach is something that gives a student a really concrete way to say, "Now I have to be focused.  Now I have to be thinking."

Wow.  I felt great when I heard that because that is what I tell Number 1 when he puts on his Whisperphone at homework time.   When he takes it off, then he too, is "off" and he can take a break.  "And by giving him that control, you're giving him that tool to be independent," said Alison.  "So when he goes off to school on his own, he knows how to flip that switch on his own."   Practicing this on and off mode is really important for a kid, especially the "taking a break" part.    Alison stressed that this too is important for a child to learn.   It does make sense.

The Park and Learn is a great way to teach kids about turning their focus "on" and "off."   For us, we have different uses for it including pretend play, relaxation, and also for reading.  From personal experience, I know that frequent fidgeters could possibly fall asleep if they get too comfy when they read but if you are not comfortable enough, you will not absorb the information.  However, the Park and Learn seems to provide that wonderful in-between amount of support/comfort.  It's hard to describe except to say that I always had a feeling that my son needed this.  The feeling was so strong that I had him sit in a laundry basket (rectangular size) that I lined with a soft blanket.  It was a bit too small for him and so I kept searching stores for bigger laundry baskets!  Yes, I really did!  And then, one day, I found a website called My Special Needs Network, a site that I like to describe as a place where parents, teachers, and therapists come together in one virtual room.

And it folds up too!!!!!  Folded height is shorter than our seed butter jar.
Win Your Own!

The site had a giveaway for a Park and Learn and I won it!  And this happened before Toys are Tools ever came into existence.  And now you can have your chance!!!!   It's being sold at $115 so you will want to give this your best shot but check out this new giveaway entry I put in below, you will love and hate Toys are Tools for it.  Sorry, but my agenda to have everyone seek out special needs catalogs to enrich family and school life must move forward.   I especially want my readers with typically developing children to come take a look at what hasn't been shown to you. For example, typical children chew on erasers and disgust parents and teachers.  Did you know there was a low-cost and sanitary solution for that?  Oh yes.

You will also see some of your favorite toys and hopefully feel good that you've been making great purchases that expert buyers and creators at Abilitations/Integrations have pinpointed as great tools for skill-building. On the other hand you might get miffed that you've been missing out.  If so, then join me when I say that all children should have access to these great tools.  When it comes to learning and playing, children should stay out the boxes (unless it looks like a Park and Learn).

Giveaway Ends: 03/22/2012 12:01AM

a Rafflecopter giveaway
If you would like to purchase the Park and Learn, please use my link!  It looks like shipping is free the last time I checked!  Using my link supports Toys are Tools without any additional cost to you.

*Learn more about Sensory Processing Disorder at 
** To find a community connected via SPD, please visit

Disclosure: I seriously did win the Park and Learn!  The laundry basket went back to its old job.   School Specialty (Abilitations) did send one to Alison Berkeley to take for a test drive and they are generously offering one Park and Learn to readers here.   This is really special.  Don't miss it!  Do the eye-shopping.  You won't regret it. Set yourself on a Time-Timer so that you won't go crazy with the eye-shopping.


  1. Can you please review the caterpinch ?

    It looks like an AWESOME fidget, but I would be interested to see how well it stands up (as in, can the gel pads be broken or squished open?) and if it really does help with getting ready for hand writting.


  2. By the way, I love their catalogue, thanks for sharing! I need to go shopping now!

  3. I hit enter too fast... :)

    Thanks for reviewing the park and learn. I think it would be a great tool, but I might just try the laundry basket idea too!

  4. Another great item that I found in the catalogue is the Gel-E seat.

    With a boy with ADHD, I am always trying to find ways to help him fidget but stay in his seat. We have tried other cushion ideas, but since this one is flat and heavy, I think it would be a better solution.

  5. I think this would be a great tool disguised as a really fun toy !!!!

  6. I love the Park and Learn as a concept, since my daughter likes to squish herself into small spaces all the time. Abilitations has great stuff. I like their BallBowl (p.352), which allows my daughter to use her therapy ball as a chair when she's working at the computer. And their various chew toys (especially Chewable Jewels, p.3) are a big help to my oral sensory seeking daughter.

  7. I think my son would really do well with this! It looks fun enough for him to be interested, but functional enough to help! Perfect!

  8. I would love to see you review the Abiliations BagOBalls. How sturdy is the bag and the balls? Is the bag large enough to be effective? We haven't had good luck finding sturdy ball pit balls in the past. Thanks!

  9. I forgot to add the link to the BagOBalls comment above:

    This is a really cool looking product. My son does really well with ball pit balls, but they get everywhere!

  10. I have a 3 yo with autism he would love this

  11. I love the HugMETankTop concept! My son wants to be hugged constantly, so maybe this would help reassure him?

  12. This was a great post. So thoughtful. I wonder how my son would do in that seat. I'd love to try it out! I think any kid would love that.

  13. I wonder, do they make these in any other styles? My son's classmates can be so cruel, and I don't know how they would react to the car concept. Maybe a plain box with fidgets, etc inside similar to this one (minus the steering wheel). That would be perfect for older kids!

  14. I think my son would love this. I see it as a tool. He has such an issue with his body in space. This would certainly define his boundaries!

  15. I think you should review the Chew Stixx Pencil Toppers. I was a pencil chewer growing up and it looks like my son is starting down the same path. I think it's something that looks fun. The other kids in class won't even know it's a tool.

  16. The Space Save Bounce and Climber just looks like a lot of fun!

  17. I have seen this on the Special Needs Network and thought that my children could absolutely benefit form using it as they love boxes and containers and getting in small places> Par tool-part toy, it would be an awesome addition to hour home and homeschool, as well as a good thing to carry along to our homechool co-op. It's just out of my price range right now with our family spending budget, so I would LOVE to win one. Thanks for the chance.

  18. The abilations catalog is a dream catalog for me - in two ways -- (1) b/c the products look so helpful and (2) b/c at this point we can only dream of utilizaing some of them. That said, there are some economical ones within range and others we could encourage my son's OT place to get. Among the "reach" products for us, I think the stool look great. It would be a toy in that it helps work on ablance and I can see contests and what not with it,. It can a tool for obvious reasons. I'd enjoy seeing your take on it.

  19. A budegt-friendly choice would be the rapper snappers My son's EI specialist brings something similar to our home and all my kids are drawn to them, so simple yet fun and useful. Would love to see your take on them.

  20. Love it! So cool for younger kids.


  21. Thanks Penny and all the readers for your ideas. I always appreciate feedback.

  22. this looks fabulous!

  23. The Abilitations DrawOnMe table looks really neat. It looks like something that would be enjoyed and could be a great tool. It's on pg. 186 of the catalog. Would like to know how sturdy and kid-friendly it is.

  24. The Park and Learn definitely looks like something kids would enjoy. I always liked sitting in cardboard boxes when I was little. I think if you can make the learning environment fun, then the kids are going to be more excited and attentive when learning.

  25. Something else I liked - the Abilitations SavitzSystem. I could imagine there are many possibilities for this. I think kids would enjoy them. pg. 122 of the catalog.

  26. I haven't seen your whole site, but I love a catalog called fun and function... don't know if you've seen it yet. So may great things to choose from in the Abilitations catalog. I love the swing and other core movement/vestibular stuff.

  27. Laurie,
    I haven't been to fun and function in a while. Thanks for the reminder! and I agree, vestibular is awesome. That's where all my favorite swings are! Did you see the Joki. It's sooooo beautiful.

  28. Oh wow!! I wish I would have seen this giveaway sooner! This would be perfect for my ADHD/SPD son especially since we are going to homeschool next year. And I LOVE the whisper phone idea - we will DEFINITELY be using ours for that purpose.